You have trapped me. Yes, you. You did this. Without knowing. You’ve done it a hundred times, to a hundred of me. You’ve been off living your life, while I have been awake: unable to move, or breathe, or sleep.
So, how have you been? Do you remember how it happened? What you did? You were there with that girl you know. I can’t remember her name, but I do remember that you asked for the photo. Click. In the blink of that innocuous action, my world suddenly ended.
For a heartbeat you felt it, didn’t you? As you waited for the flash, your apprehension rose. You may try to deny it, but deep-down you’ve always felt it. Everyone has a primal fear of the camera. The swivel of the aperture and the heart-stopping brilliance of the flash that locks a moment in time perfectly. For a split-second, you felt the same disorientation I felt. You lost a small piece of yourself that day, and that piece is now me.
I, on the other hand, was shrunk through a glassy lens until I was just a pinprick of light, mangled and then stretched outward again. For you it was a fraction of a second, but for me I was acutely aware of how far I had to travel. I hung suspended between each lens, before being distorted again. A million microscopic light sensors, like piranhas, each took a bite out of me, until there was nothing left.
For a moment there I was a spike of painful electricity, then I was a string of numbers, and then I was fused back together with white light, and finally, left to calcify on the camera’s display screen. I felt the girl looking at my new pillory on the screen. She laughed. In this picture we have our eyes half-closed. We look ridiculous, frozen this way, but she didn’t delete the photo.
I’m wedged between other pictures of you, from that same day. We don’t really begrudge you, but I wish you didn’t keep photographing yourself endlessly from every angle until you find one that is just perfect. Some of the pictures are fortunate, they get obliterated if you remember to delete them.
Suddenly, I was sitting on social media. It felt like a family gathering with myself. There are hundreds of you here. Why are there so many? Do you have trouble remembering what you look like? Are you documenting yourself, each day, for the foreseeable future? As for me personally, you’ve untagged yourself from me. You’re ashamed of me, and how we look. The parade of yourself has to be perfect, I suppose. However, you didn’t ask the other girl to delete me. So, I’m stuck here now. On a server somewhere: invisible and frozen in place.
Didn’t some wise folk warn us about this? Cameras stealing your soul? We chuckled back then when we heard about it. How frustratingly primitive, we thought. However, we forgot that those “primitive” cultures are much more in-tune with these things. They know the warning, the click of a twig that is accidentally snapped by a silent predator. They warned us, and we chuckled.
Look, I can tell you still aren’t convinced. So let me just offer something to prove my point. Go and find a recent photograph of you, but make sure you can see the eyes. Go ahead, I’ll wait here.
Found it? Great. Now, look closely. Ignore the face. Ignore the smile of that younger-version of yourself: it’s just the mural on the prison wall. Cover everything except the eyes. Lose yourself in the eyes. Stare into them. Deeper, and deeper. I promise: you will see the pain that echoes behind those eyes.