I felt so alive, so at peace, so aware, so…on my way to being refreshed- as I walked through the Bywater neighborhood of downtown New Orleans on my first morning back in town. I walked past all of the colorful houses and tropical flora. I held my purse close, to stop the metal chain strap and the contents from jingling, so that I could listen the sounds in the near distance.
Boats, water, trains, birds, people, music… I felt shivers run through my body as my muscles loosened-up their tense grip under the balmy, late-morning sunshine. An unexpected feeling of emotional warmth and refuge took over me that morning. I will always remember this feeling, because of how I perfectly articulated it in a Facebook status that day- “Finally decompressing from 6 months of every major life-stressor minus having a baby. It feels like ghosts are leaving my body, every couple of hours…”
While walking around, I felt so complimentary to the tropical environment, with my fresh pink hair and colorful tattoos, so I chose to photographically document myself in front of many of the brightly painted homes that I passed during that walk.
After all, I was on this trip alone, so it was up to me if I wanted to have photos for friends, family, and future self. I was going to have to indulge in the “Selfie”. No cocky, perfectly angled shots that were taken 20 times before finding the right one. No bragging about a sexy outfit or an exclusive privileged experience. Just fun memories to share.
The term “selfie” has become a part of pop culture references over the past few years, thanks the the increase in user-based mobile phone photography tools, such as Instagram. The Moving Image Art Fair defines “selfie” in the description of their London Art show “National #Selfie Portrait Gallery”, by saying it is:
“the omnipresent slang for digital self-portraits found across all social networks. Self-portraiture has a long artistic heritage, with devotees including Rembrandt, the compulsive self-documentarian, Courbet, who styled himself a suave Bohemian, and van Gogh, the fragile genius, bandaged at the ear. Today, the genre belongs to anyone with a camera. Self-portraiture is the most democratic creative medium available, both as a performative outlet for the social self and an intimate vehicle of personal catharsis, for artists and non-artists alike.”
In April of 2012, I decided to quit hating the vain concept of the selfie, and use it to return to the concept of the self-portrait, where the photo captures more essence and less ego. It was during this day in New Orleans, where I decided to put these to use.
For the next 45 days, I was on tour as a burlesque performer. Unlike a traditional artist’s tour, I was not performing in every city that I stopped in. I chose some cities along the way, purely for food-centric reasons. Although New Orleans was my original home-base for burlesque, I reserved it for refuge…and food. Food for body AND soul.
A year prior to this tour, my passion for food had grown exponentially, and I figured that some of my future travels should be based simply around a dish or a cuisine, and that the rest of the adventure of traveling would appear on its own along the way.
Now that I had the chance to ramble around, I put this idea to use and chose: New Orleans, LA (NOLA); Baltimore, Maryland; Portland, Maine; and Memphis, TN as my food destinations, while NYC, San Francisco, Portland, OR; and Asheville, NC, were reserved primarily for performing but easily doubling as food destinations as well.
After that first tropical walk around Bywater, I decided that I should continue to photograph myself in each city, with the requirement that each background needs to somehow represent where I am. Further along in the trip, I felt happy in comparison to the last several months in Austin, and it made me wonder how long I was going to live there, so I began toying with daydreams of myself living in other cities.
I decided to use my travel selfies as a photographic-spiritual quest- to see if I appeared happier and/or more at peace in one particular location over another. I wondered if I would see something in myself that might guide me for a decision about future endeavors in regards to location. Perhaps in looking back on these photos, I could see my future.
I uploaded these photos onto my Instagram account, with the hashtag of “BackgroundsProject”/”BackgroundsProject2012” etc… I hoped that in the end, I could look at the collection of photos and see something within them.
After several more months of realizing that I was just spinning my wheels in the Austin mud, I decided to do whatever it took to get up and out of town. There were a couple of cities that were immediate options in addition to some cities that I was curious about. I needed to explore these options and listen to my heart along the way. And take lots of pictures.
The three main candidates for leaving Austin were, move back to New Orleans or Portland, or try a new city, San Diego. I took many selfies along the way, some for fun, some to show my friends where I was at on that given day, and some to be a part of my “Backgrounds Project”.
A couple months later, I drove into Portland, OR to stay with family, feel it out, recoup from traveling, and look for a job to either stay at, or one that would pay the bills for me to move to whichever other city I had decided on. Very shortly after, all signs pointed toward me staying in Portland.
During that trip, I had expected one of the locations to click in a way that felt like fireworks and flashing lights saying “This is the place!” At least in my head, my heart, or even in front of my very eyes. But no. The decision to stay in Portland was a quiet, mature, calm, and somewhat submissive decision. But I wanted to feel submissive.
I was tired of trying to control the scenario and I knew, realistically, that there would be no fireworks to confirm “this is it!” I gave up on the idea that a place might make me feel happy-go-lucky, like how I remember myself before I moved back to Texas. I saw how my family and friends took actions to support and hold on to me, urging me to stay in Portland, while other signs of hope popped up to keep me on board. So I stayed. I committed. Things gradually got better and better.
All of this, and not a single selfie in Portland from both of the year’s road trips that brought me to town (the Portland one from above was months after deciding to stay). In addition to the absence of the Portland selfies in the “Backgrounds Project”, I determined that none of the selfies provided the introspection that I had been testing them for. I was holding onto the notion that perhaps these photos of myself during my travels will help show me where I really need to be.