Like almost everyone these days, this photographer marked a personally important event or milestone by taking a selfie. Usually, these images are of interest only to an immediate circle of family and friends. Both the momentousness of the occasion depicted, and the photographer’s interest in conveying meaning through symbology, elevate this selfie into a compelling self-portrait, a genre more customarily explored in painting.
The occasion is one that increasing numbers of us have experienced: getting our second dose of COVID-19 vaccine. The setting—a car interior—and the band aid tell, at a glance, the story of the photographer’s liberation from a year of living fearfully. Other layers of significance can be peeled back by delving into the rich profusion of patterns that serve a greater purpose than simply delighting the eye.
The prominent skull and crossbones on the mask are the photographer’s acknowledgement of the deadliness of the virus that she has escaped. They also pay homage to the decorative sugar skulls used to honor ancestors on Mexico’s Dia de los Muertos. Drawing on the culture of the Hawaiian islands where the photographer lived before moving to New Mexico are the personal adornments of puka shells and whale-bone amulet. They bring good fortune and protection to those journeying on.
The meaning of the deer tattoo is perhaps the most esoteric. It is a detail from an early example of tattooing found on the mummified body of a woman who lived in what is now Russian in the 5th century B.C.E. The photographer endured its creation to commemorate her maternal line at the time of her mother’s passing.
The selfie is the photographer’s memo to herself—and us—of what it takes to survive challenges and move from a time of pain and loss into a place of peace and beauty.
—Commentary by Tom Hinson, editor, Photograph of the Week
Editor’s Note: Click on the photograph to view it in a light box for even greater clarity.
Professional, amateur and phone-camera photographers alike are invited to submit images to the Sierra County Sun for possible publication in the Sun’s “Photograph of the Week” feature. The deadline for consideration is every Friday at 5 p.m. For further information, click on the Help Us Report button on our home page and then check the box labeled “I want to submit a photo to Photograph of the Week.”