Just hold right there. Actually, tilt your chin up a bit. Lips a bit plumper, if you can. Plumper still. THERE.
OK, now relax your shoulders. No, don’t slouch. Sit up straight. That’s it.
Try to get your arm out of the shot if you can. It looks awkward. No, I know we all know it’s a selfie, but like, let’s try not to make it so obvious.
Well, don’t be mad! Now your eyebrows look weird. OK, so now we’re not going with the closed mouth? We’re going with the toothy grin?
No, it’s fine. It’s just—what’s even your motivation in this shot?
Do you want to be powerful? Beautiful? Vulnerable? Like, what emotion are we going for right now?
You used to take pictures. You’d be in them. You’d be smiling, earnest. Happy to be there. Enjoying the moment. Capturing it on purpose.
Someday I’ll want to look back on this and see myself here.
What happened? Why can’t we see you anymore?
Balancing your camera on a post eight paces away, framing the Sydney Harbor Bridge behind you. Waiting as the orange light blinked faster and faster, then snapped a quick three photos. Walking back to the post to see how they turned out. Liking them. Liking everything. Not wanting to change your clothes, your hair, your face.
Setting your camera on the stairs—upstairs, downstairs, so many stairs—on the Great Wall of China. Alone. Like, very very alone. Like, 6:30 A.M. and the only other person at Mutanyu Pass is the poor sap who opens the gate and accepts your entrance fee and primal communication system of bowing and smiling and frantic, open-palmed hand gestures. So completely alone that you stole a stone from the wall and brought it home to your mom. But the good alone. Pictures of yourself, by yourself, for yourself.
Framing the city of Rio de Janeiro, down and away. The favelas, the beaches, Sugarloaf sitting upright in the sea. It was so windy. Hair everywhere, eyes squinting, and yet. Up there. Next to Christ the Redeemer. At the magic hour. Before sunset. Your face wears the knowing smirk of rebellion; you bill these moments to the client.
Remember when two teachers in your elementary school got married, and the students were invited to the ceremony? You had to dress up, so your mom put you in a black and white striped overall skirt that must have, at one point, belonged to your sister or one of her friends.
You hated skirts. You felt naked and strange, like you were wearing someone else’s skin. You worried someone might call you pretty.
You knew yourself. This wasn’t it.
There are photos of you, standing with your family outside the church gates on a beautiful summer evening. Earlier that day, you played SPUD and ran around until your face turned beet red. But here? You looked like a vacant property. Your little apple cheeks showed no color. You couldn’t even force a smile.
You’ve never been good at faking it.