DOUBLE

DOUBLE is an exploration of my identity as a photographer, and above all a reflection on the concept of self. By double exposing pictures of myself with pictures I’ve taken, I explicitly represent my body as an aggregate of images, bearing the traces of experiences and people from my past [1]. Of course, these fragments are carefully chosen, otherwise there would be too many memories for any meaningful understanding to be possible. In this way, I leave a lot of interpretation up to viewers, as the photographs, stripped of their context, do not have the same importance for them as they do for me. 

Each double exposure is meant to highlight a theme that has been or continues to be important in my life. My photographs lay bare my vulnerabilities, my questionings, and my search for answers. They reflect who I am, and who I am is reflected in my photography. I photograph things that have punctum [2] for me, whether I realize them in the moment or not. The characters and places in my photos make me smile, cry, angry, or nostalgic; in sum, they make me feel connected to the world. The translucent nature of double exposed photographs also marks the fluidity of my identity. Different viewers will notice different details, just as I am not the same person to everyone I meet. At the same time, I must also grapple with change, and allow myself to be reshaped and reformed as time progresses.

As a whole, the twelve photographs are an attempt to present an image of my sense of self, though the fact that it is a collection of figures already recognizes that my identity is not fixed, just as Baudelaire wrote about the multiplicity of correspondences between words and their meanings [3]. The organization of these pictures into a series is meant to propose that we should always look for the hidden figures that have gone into the making of a photograph.  

The number 24 features prominently in this project, inspired by the writings of Kracauer and Barthes. The Chinese Zodiac is also a 12-year cycle, which when doubled, makes 24. As I near the end of the second cycle of my life, this number seems like an appropriate way to symbolize all that has contributed to who I am as of January 2017.

[1] Henri Bergson, trans. Nancy M. Paul and W. S. Palmer, Matter and Memory, (London: G. Allen, 1912), 19.

[2] Roland Barthes, trans. Richard Howard, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography, (New York: Hill and Wang, 1981), 53.

[3] Charles Baudelaire, “Correspondences,” Les Fleurs du Mal, 1857.

Created for ECS 342: Literature and Photography, Fall 2016

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one, two | the beginnings

When I remember scenes from childhood, I find that those memories are rarely my own. They’re memories given to me by photographs and stories, mostly from my parents. These mental and physical images represent how they saw the world and me as a part of it, and now these fragments have become a part of how I see myself.

three, four | different lenses

I never imagined I would consider myself a photographer. Growing up, I always thought I wasn’t “creative enough” to make art. Then I took to the streets and started shooting people and the places I traveled to. I began to learn that life is full of art. We just have to train ourselves to “see,” which means allowing the images that we already capture with our subconscious to surface, so that others may see them as well.

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five, six | gendered decorations

One time in elementary school, my mom wanted me to buy a dress from the girl’s section, but I insisted on going to the boy’s section and buying a white short-sleeve t-shirt with the words “BASEBALL” written in red across the front. Even now, she won’t allow me to cut my hair short, even though that’s the way I prefer it. Am I my own image, or my mother’s image of who I am?

seven, eight | grasping silence

For a long time, society’s value of extroversion made me feel inadequate. Silence made me seem arrogant, cold and uninterested. So I forced myself to speak, but was always too late or didn’t like the sound of my own voice ringing in my ears. Photography is slowly becoming my quiet way of expressing myself to the world.

 

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nine, ten | looking in

I envy people who can easily culturally and ethnically identify themselves. By citizenship, I am Canadian-Chinese. By cultural upbringing, I am Chinese. By education, I am American. At Princeton, I am Asian American. All of these labels describe a part of me, but none capture the full picture. Sometimes I feel like a floating entity, unable to solidly sink into any one skin.

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eleven, twelve | porcelain mask

Perhaps I’d have an easier time if I weren’t so thin-skinned. Others’ words can make me reach incredible highs and unfathomable lows. But like everything else, it’s a work in progress. Without becoming shattered, we cannot appreciate the beauty of the whole.

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thirteen, fourteen | reaching for

Sometimes I no longer know what I’m reaching for. I’m at Princeton, now what? Do I reach for my own dreams, or my parents’ American Dream? Do I have the courage to face the consequences of my decisions, and what is it that I truly want?

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fifteen, sixteen | summer seasoning

I spent the summer of 2014 teaching English in Jishou, a small city in the south of China. It changed the way I saw my relationship with others, my relationship with China, and myself. That summer, filled with heat and spice, allowed me to experience true happiness.

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seventeen, eighteen | red inspiration

Nowadays, most things I create are inspired in some way or another by my heritage. I denied the importance of my past experiences for a long time, not realizing how important they were in shaping my identity. There’s the person I wish I could be and the person I want to be. I’ve found that there is a difference.

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nineteen, twenty | remember me?

As a photographer, I constantly question why I take pictures. Do I photograph to remember, or to be remembered? What drives me to photograph some things and not others? I know that every picture I take eventually becomes a part of who I am, therefore every decision to capture a moment becomes a choice of who I want to be in the future, as a photographer and as a person.

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twenty-one, twenty-two | explorer feet

A place is different when you explore it by foot. I like feeling the different textures beneath my feet and experiencing the changes in smell from one street to the next. (If only I could capture smell with photographs!) When I walk, my surroundings have enough time to be alive, rather than be frozen in time as I speed by.

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twenty-three, twenty-four | other me

In the absence of my facial features, who or what defines me? Is it my sister, who is closer to me in likeness than anyone else in this world? And thus the collection ends on a photograph that looks like me but isn’t me, suggesting that any attempt to represent myself fully through photographs is futile.