Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Selfies—Breakthrough. Finally.

Self Portrait Series, May 2012—I've created self portraits since I was a little kid. I drew them at first, then sometime during college I began using a camera. I probably have a thousand "selfies." I'll do a retrospective using them someday, but for the past several years, I've been deleting them as fast as I can shoot them. I'm just not the person I see in the photographs.

For the past 7-8 years, the exterior I photographed wasn't the person I was inside. And I don't really just mean figuratively. I literally didn't recognize the person I was shooting. I was heavier, I was older. I was more pedestrian. It didn't seem to matter if I was actually fatter, or if I was wearing boring clothes or had a bad haircut, there was a complete dichotomy between who I was inside and what I looked like outside when I saw myself in a photo. 

I know it's hard to understand for people with "normal" wants and needs, and I frequently wish I was normal, but I'm not. I'm alone in this life, for one. Being an artist, I suppose that translates into a fairly intense egotistical existence. I've had mental health issues the past several years. I've had "regular" health issues the past several years. I've had dire financial issues which continue to this day. I really didn't think I'd ever recognize the person in the camera anymore. It freaked me out. I feel like Casey inside but I look like Stephen, or Calvin, or Edmund outside. In other words, I had stopped taking self-portraits and was photographing someone else. Until tonight.

Let me backtrack a second. Today, President Obama came out for marriage equality. He said he felt that gay people in committed relationships should have the right to marry. While I live in Connecticut and we already have legal same-sex marriages, the fact that the President of the United States came out with such a forceful personal opinion, really hit home with me. It was emotional. Just like the time in 1969 when Judy Garland died, and I asked my Uncle Bill to take some Polaroids of me because I wanted to remember that day forever, I decided I wanted to capture "me" on this historic day. I had no expectations. Well, actually I expected to hate them. I expected to take 25 photos of whoever showed up in the lens, delete 24 of them, and just save one crappy one for a future art project. I was shocked when I downloaded them onto my Mac: There I was.

There I was, the same person was staring back at me as I was inside. I recognized me. I saw ME. I didn't see a man that was passing for me. I saw the same person I was when I was 25 years old just 30 years older. It was a breakthrough.

I don't know if it's a one-time thing. I don't know if tomorrow I'll go back to not knowing the person I'm photographing. And I don't know if I have adequately expressed how important this has been to me, as an artist, as a man with issues, as a man alone in this world. But I'm taking it for what it is: A gift. A remembrance of who I was and who I am. I'll take it for today!

Reflected in a vintage mirror, with 100 year old pewter candlesticks and a ceramic "pocketbook" vase from the 1940s. That wooden cat has been mine since I was 10 years old.

Reflected in my bathroom mirror with its somewhat tacky frosted floral design embossed on it.

Reflected in a mirror embossed with a gold Rolls-Royce "Spirit of Ecstacy" logo etched on it. My father gave me this mirror for my 12th birthday in 1969. He bought it on Madison Ave in Manhattan, a fact I know because the business card of the retailer is still in the corner of it, lol!

Yes, the flash is obtrusive but I've shot images like this for years. I like the randomness of the flash area. The fact that my eyes and my face match my thoughts, and my past self-portraits, is really a breakthrough for me.

I love this photo. My salt-and-pepper hair has a white streak in front and I've cut it so it stands straight up in a point. I'm wearing my usual "Lenny & Joe's" T-shirt, a local seafood restaurant. I have at least fifty of their shirts and wear them daily. 


  1. This is a really touching post Casey. I have maybe ten pictures of myself between my early teen years and my mid thirties. I felt exactly the disconnect you talk about. But when I finally found myself liking pictures of myself, I actually found myself liking most older pictures of me also. Makes me wish I hadn't tried to steer clear of cameras when I was younger. But anyway, the point is that breakthrough you describe is incredibly healing. That self-acceptance is so important. Good on you.

  2. Hello Casey, nice to meet you. :) and I really mean that. I want to say I am "happy" for you, but that just isn't a BIG enough word. I want to say I understand, and in my own way, with my own experiences i do, but I have a feeling this is a WAY bigger deal than I can ever imagine.
    You are a handsome, articulate, caring, talented man. I haven't had the privilege of meeting you outside of cyberspace, but i KNOW that I KNOW this about you.
    Consider yourself hugged and a big high five for good measure.
    I am so. happy. for. YOU. Mr Casey Shain
    Thank you for sharing this special day.

    1. Thank you, Mare. I really feel we know each other after these past few years!

  3. He took a large drain of the brown and said,"It's never quite right, the way the people look, the way the music sounds, the way the words are written..never quite right, he said, all the things we are taught, all the loves we chase, all the deaths we die, all the lives we live, they are never quite right, they are hardly close to right, these lives we live one after the other, piled there as history, the waste of the species, the crushing of the light and the way, its not quite right, its hardly right at all, and the photographs are false...distorted by some devil we can not see..I expected nothing but myself but lost everything to the unexpected."

  4. Outstanding piece as always Casey!

  5. You expressed yourself beautifully - although that doesn't surprise me. I have a heart full of love for you, my sweet, funny, freaky, fun and fabulous friend. We will toast to this grand event today or tomorrow.

    You are a beautiful man.

  6. thank you, dear readers, for your comments. They really mean a lot to me! I have fantastic people checking out my blog.

  7. If we all looked like Casey, the world will have fewer problems.

    1. haha, that would be one f&^%$#ed up world, Woody, lol. : )

  8. Beautifully written <3

    It takes a such an incredibly long time to find your "tribe or understand yourself" if you are not "normal" or don't fit into a particular group (hello high school). Through the years and struggles, emotional ups and downs, I have learned to embrace the quirks and idiosyncrasies of my "less than normal" personality. This is me and I sure has hell will not apologize for who I am.

    And this is also what make you the incredibly talented artist, clever and sensitive person you are. Go ahead and embrace it Casey, life is too short not to be true to yourself. xo

  9. I can't believe it has taken me this long to see this posting on your blog. Incredible...and great photos as well. And now I know what spikey-haired photographer to look for.