Paranoia as a System: Autobiography of a Straw

My conference project is a photo series of personal memories, looking at what causes the anxiety-inducing changes that make me who I am today. My series is comprised of photos collected from the digital photo albums across my family members’ social media, as well as new photos that draw inspiration from the photos coming from my family. While the photos from my childhood are not manipulated or staged, the new photos are.

Autobiography of a Straw explores the personal paranoia I experience when attempting to trace the line between my past and my present. Divided into two realms, the project aims to resolve the question of why the little boy I am in the first section is hard to recognize in who appears in the accompanying photos. I wanted to visualize all parts of me from the past, my love, my skin, my connections. My candidness in the photos I selected was a crucial part in visualizing the changes that I experienced. A juxtaposition to how meticulously calculated social media postings feel today, the photos used show a different time. Already out-of-touch with the presence of filters, I found that any attempts to manipulate these older photos would make them inorganic in a way not compatible with my goals. 

This oscillation between the raw and hyper-edited photos used further drives the idea of divergence. The staged photos attempt to counter this, but the effort falls short. What remains are melancholy failures to reconnect. There is, however, a new connection that is formed between the audience and the subject. Certain elements of arrangement and manipulation drive this connection forward. These photos attempt to not just connect a past and present self, but the past and present forms of elements that are visible. 

All photos were taken using a 16mm mirrorless camera and edited with software. The use of natural lighting with one exception attempts to bridge the modern photos with those from the past, especially as nature is such an important part of both these photos and my life. One of the elements that managed to produce narrative was skin and the revealing nature of the photos. To see such clear changes occur in my body takes the audience back to the question, what led to the me that exists today. The orientation of the photos also draws on my connection to the 4 cardinal directions, something that brings me closer to my indigenous roots. 

Author: Alejo Pena Soto