Portrait of the Artist with Pneumonia

by Wendy Copley on March 30, 2011

For the past 3 months, I have been taking on online class taught by Ali Edwards called Yesterday & Today. While  primarily targeted at scrapbookers, it’s really a memoir class, encouraging you to alternately focus on photos and memories from the past, capturing your current reality and comparing  past and present experiences side by side.

Because we decided to move shortly after the class started, I haven’t been able to give it the attention I was intending which is a bummer. The class is archived though, so I have been catching up as I can find time. Last week I was able to grab an hour to listen to one of the video presentations about self portraiture and I came away incredibly inspired by Ali’s challenge to take a self-portrait every day for a week.

Going into this project, I knew I wouldn’t be thrilled with the photos of myself. There are reasons you don’t see me in many photos on this site. Let’s begin with the cliche: like most women, I am unhappy with my weight. Unlike many women, I have a good reason to be unhappy with it: I am very overweight. Also fairly obvious is that I am almost always holding the camera so I’m rarely in front of it. The other reason is that I don’t smile very much lately. It’s hard to flip through a bunch of pictures of yourself and see how rarely you smile.

Because I don’t  like most photos of myself, I don’t often post them on my blog or put them in my scrapbooks. I have thousands of photos of my husband and my boys — literally tens of thousands — but only a hand full of myself. When I review digital photos of myself after downloading them to my laptop, I can’t hit the delete key fast enough. I am erasing myself from our family history — a family history I spend a great deal of time and energy compiling — because of vanity. It’s ridiculous and I have to stop! I am part of our family too.

I had intended to spend my week trying to capture photos of myself that represent the things I do in a day and my relationship with my family, but then something all-consuming happened and completely changed the project: I caught an upper respiratory virus that turned into pneumonia. As you would expect, this changed the nature of the photos I took and strangely it made me like them more.

Capturing photos of myself at my lowest and most miserable — and liking them — has been a really powerful exercise for me. I anticipate I’ll take more photos of myself in the future.

Day 1:

Self Portrait #1

My first photo, taken in the bathroom mirror at 10:38 pm, immediately after deciding to do this project. I was pretty tired from the long day and look it.

Day 2:

Self Portrait #2

My wacky side. I was starting to feel sick this day, but not so much that I couldn’t pose upside down for a few minutes.

Day 3:

Self Portrait #3

I was really starting to feel the virus. My fever was starting to inch upward. I took this photo after a shower at the end of a long day with the kids. I look tired and old and sick.

Day 4:

Self Portrait #4

I still hadn’t realized how sick I was. I was taking Tylenol to keep my fever down and trying to keep up with Augie and the housework like normal while Zach worked. You can tell I’m feeling bad because I’m still wearing my pajamas really late in the day. After Zach stopped working for the day, I crawled into bed and have barely left it since.

As a side note, if you ever want to take a bunch of unflattering pictures of your butt, set your camera’s auto-timer to go off while you’re unloading the dishwasher.

Day 5:

Self Portrait #5

I spent the day in bed with a 103 degree fever, alternating coughing fits, shivering with 4 blankets on me and sweating buckets as the Tylenol brought my fever back down again. I slept as much as I could and read and played games on my phone when I had the strength. At the end of the day, Wyatt came in, patted my head and said, “You look really nice today, Mom!”

Day 6:

Self Portrait #6

I finally realized that I needed to go to the doctor. My fever was on it’s fifth day and showed no signs of abating and I was up half the night coughing. At Kaiser they asked me to put on a face mask (which I was happy to do) and then I was suited up in a gown for my chest X-ray.

Day 7:

Self Portrait #7

Back in bed with a pneumonia diagnosis, a prescription for azithromycin and a freshly downloaded copy of Angry Birds Rio.

Do you take photos of yourself? Do you like photos of yourself? I challenge you to take a photo of yourself every day for a week. Photos of your feet don’t count.

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