Recently, I had some portraits taken by a professional photographer and when I saw the result I was confounded. The photos themselves were of high quality. But who was that elderly gentleman sitting on a chair impersonating me?
How is it possible that what the camera sees does not at all match with how I feel? It is not only a question of vanity, although that certainly plays a role. Neither is it that I fear growing older. On the contrary, with the grim life expectancy I had when diagnosed with HIV in 1987, having lived this long is a victory over the odds.
But even though I know the facts, I feel that I have barely started with life and that there’s still so much left to do. The idea of being a beginner does not at all square with the elderly gentleman in the photos. He seems to be someone I could easily imagine living the life of a retired person, reading the Financial Times during long, leisurely breakfasts, tending his garden, and making an occasional visit to other retirees. That’s not me!
It is alarming to think that I have such a distorted view when it comes to an image I see many times a day reflected in a mirror or shopwindow. Does that mean that there are other aspects of my life in which my perception starkly differs from reality?
It leaves me wondering how much time I spend in a haze of misinterpretation and fantasy. Are we humans at all capable of seeing reality as it is, or are we wired to live in a certain delusion because what surrounds us would otherwise be too overwhelming?
I find solace in the idea that not seeing my wrinkles, or at least not all of them, is just a way my brain helps me to survive. Still, next time, I might try another photographer.