Archive for July, 2007

The Book of Faces

I had been planning a post about Facebook, and wrote some thoughts down, but then a few weeks ago, somebody I knew in high school posted nearly 200 photographs he’d taken of people in the halls and in classrooms, and a second post emerged. I’ve divided them up, because they represent two different ways of looking at it.


I find the faces of people I knew when I was a child or a teenagers. Sometimes the person I knew is hiding behind behind the skin, peering out from the eyes. We are all approaching 40, and all, to varying degrees, showing the signs of age.

I wonder what they think when they see me. I’ve put on a little weight, which shows in my face more than anywhere else. There’s a freshness gone from my skin, but generally I don’t think I’ve aged much in the past twenty years. I look at pictures of myself back then, and I just seem thinner.

But there are some people there I can barely recognise. And it’s not because their present faces don’t conform with the faces that had been frozen in eternal youth in my mind. In most cases I can’t remember how they looked back then. The only moment of recognition is when when I see their names. The faces are strange, someone else, barely the shadow of who they once were.

And yet others remain very much as they were when I knew them, as if they have only changed their haircuts. I wonder why some have aged more quickly than others. Have they not treated themselves well, or even abused themselves? Has luck been not as kind to some? Too much stress and worry can make them look old and tired and can lead to being overweight.

Have some of us refused to age emotionally too? I still feel as I felt 20 years ago. (I feel more confident and less anxious than I did then, so perhaps I even feel younger. Only my body feels older, more sore in the morning when I get out of bed. And there’s a bit of grey in my hair.)

I began to imagine a real face book, a sort of atlas of a person’s life, built up over time, where you could turn the pages and see on each one how a person’s face progressed and aged and decayed. Before I got my digital camera, I planned to take one picture of myself every day, to record those changes, the fluctuations in weight, or how my skin grew dark or pale through the seasons. But I never did. Or at least not yet.

I think I’m more interested in seeing change after it has passed unnoticed, in being surprised by it. I want the process removed, with only the results to show. A.W.’s father, a photographer, had come up with the idea of having all the residents of a street stand out in the front of their houses as someone drove down and filmed them all. The idea was to put the film away and see how many people were still there ten or 20 years later.


There are faces of those I haven’t even thought about in years, faces I’d forgotten until I saw them again, but they are different now. It can’t be a trick of memory because my memory hasn’t been exercising itself on them all these years. They’re younger and fresher and more alive. Why would I expect them to be otherwise? Did I expect them to be pictures of Dorian Gray? Did I expect their faces to grow older on film as mine has in reality, in life, since then? I must have. Why else would I be so surprised to see them now?

Or is it because I felt so much wearier and older then (I’m sure we all did) that I’m surprised to see what fresh children we actually were on the outside? I look as deep into the eyes as I can now for signs of the corruption I was so sure was eating us up inside, but it’s not there. Just sweet lovely youth.

If those faces could see us now, if those children could see the 40-year-olds we’ve become, would they also be fooled, see age and weariness in our faces and think them a reflection of our souls?

It occurs to me though that it was all in my head; I had projected that sense of corruption on others. They would all say to me now, “What are you talking about? You’ve got it all backwards. We always felt young and free and fresh.” It makes me sad. I want to go back and get it right, to open the windows of my poor misspent youth and let in the light and fresh air, the light that I later followed here and which has come to fill my life. My face is not among those I see, but if it was, I would apologise to it. For years I had blamed my youth and said it was black. But wasn’t my youth — it was me all along. I was green and didn’t know it. I don’t want to go back, but I want to give myself happier memories. I want to put myself in those pictures among all those faces I wish I had known better.

Read Full Post »