The Selfie Project

August 31

Photographer Simon Williams uses the selfie to take a good hard look at himself.

MUCH OF MY ADULT LIFE, I HAVE FACED CHALLENGES OF MENTAL WELLBEING. I HAVE SOUGHT HELP TO OVERCOME THESE, TO DEVELOP COPING STRATEGIES, AND TO LIVE AS WELL AS POSSIBLE, BUT NOTHING PREPARES YOU FOR THE JOURNEY OF DEEP GRIEF THAT FOLLOWS THE SUICIDE OF SOMEONE YOU LOVE. I REACHED A POINT WHERE I HAD NO CHOICE BUT TO TAKE AS MANY STEPS AS POSSIBLE, BUT TRADITIONAL AVENUES OF HELP WEREN’T WORKING. SO I DID SOMETHING DIFFERENT.
I FOUND A WAY TO SUPPORT MYSELF, AND TO ALLOW THOSE AROUND ME TO CONTRIBUTE WHEN THEY COULD.

As a start, I needed to be able to communicate to others what was going on with me and where I was currently at. I decided to try to do this visually. My theory was I had to be able to look at myself externally. What do I see? How do I look? Where am I? What’s going on around me? I’m the person best qualified to answer these questions, so, surrendering myself to intuition, I tasked myself with taking a selfie. Often, these would be one take. I might perform a few edits later, but on the whole the process was instinctive.

Along with the photograph, which I’d paste privately to my Facebook feed, I would write down what I saw. This allowed me to get rid of what was going on, but also to allow others in. There was
so much support. The way it arrived was the real surprise. It came in packets, like the load really was being spread. There were many who were always there, and others who drifted in and out at certain points. There were messages from people telling me they couldn’t tell me why, but what I was doing was helping them. There were many who started having deeper and more meaningful conversations with me. There was very little, in fact almost no, negative feedback. Fearing what others will say about you when you really open up isn’t something you have to worry about.

Five years on, I don’t do this as often as I did at the start, but I do still work this process into my strategies for wellness. I find spring is the time I really need to do this. Perhaps it’s just a quick reset at the start of the year, another cycle, another chance to be more mentally well than ever before. This is a study of selfography.

“WORRYING WHAT OTHERS SAY ABOUT YOU WHEN YOU REALLY OPEN UP, ISN’T SOMETHING YOU HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT.”

26 January, 2015

Where am I at right now? There is a really small part of me that is in super crisp focus. It’s tiny and almost impossible to detect which part exactly. You think you’ve spotted it then look again and it’s switched. There is actually more light than dark and, thankfully, there is little fully black. There is this overwhelming sense of hope, yet there still exists a pointlessness. I mean, why did I take this photograph? I had no idea I was going to write words when I was thinking my arms are just that little bit too short.

2 October, 2016

When you’re mixed up… go be outside. It worked to a certain degree, I didn’t go and buy a bag of sweet treats, just went straight home to just be. Make sure you’re doing everything to look after yourself and please, let someone else know if life’s a bit shit, they won’t mind at all.

3 October, 2018

So here it is, the first in a very long time. I’m standing in the shadows, but it’s not super dark. I’ve had a bit of a tidy up, but there is a way to go yet. A few fun looking things lying around, but then there is me. Standing slightly awkwardly
and looking away, out of frame and towards the light. No matter how hard I have tried with this photo, I’m over-exposed in the highlights. This realisation that I’ve become mentally unwell leaves me feeling a little blown out. My old strategies and warning signs didn’t work. Uh oh. But this process helps. So too will using those machines parked up behind me. The garage has been slowly filling up since before winter. Yesterday, I took it on. Today, I built a guinea pig run out of old pallets. A goat house is next.

Here’s my latest. I find myself at the end of the road. While I do what I can to get myself into selfie mode, there is a lot I just leave to the now. There’s no manual for this part, it really is about just following your intuition. If you like to plan, then just do a rough outline, one open to lots of variances (don’t bother trying to plan the variances, that’s not going to give you a result that is helpful).

The perspective that’s being offered to me is that finding myself at the end of a road doesn’t have to mean I have to ditch my life and change almost everything. Right now, I’m fortunate enough to feel my holy grail of feelings, to feel content. The road analogy is telling me, for the most part, I’m getting it right.

Look at the majesty of this place. I happened across it; a variance brought me to stand in this place at this point in time. Being in the right district really helps. As of yet, I’m not rushing to climb up these mountains, I’m happy in the valley taking it all in. And it might be that back down that road I’ll see a perspective which changes everything, if I keep my eyes open.

I see I’m looking straight into the sun. It felt like the best thing to do, and as I reflect, I recall that around a year ago I was looking at the sun near a similar road. I was feeling tired and a little despondent, almost like I’d overthought the situation and could only find something false. Here, I allowed myself to bathe in the rays of Tamanuiterā. There he is, sending out his all-day energy. It was too bright to look into his eyes. I squinted to get a basic idea of where I was standing and used what I saw to help draw the energy of the place into my mix. All of this goes towards helping me solve my mystery– where is Simon right now?

My choice of outfit allows me to blend in nicely. There are days when I purposefully put myself out there in bright clothes, ironically, to help me hide. Today there are only patches of colour, visible for those keen of eye.

Then there’s the waka, a very fine one. This waka helps me take roads into places less accessible, and today is another one of those days I’m on my own. I need these, but something that’s sticking out to me is that I should have people along for the ride a little bit more often. There are also many more tracks here that need other types of waka to access, and maybe I didn’t bring the right waka for this trip. Sometimes other people help us select what we’re going to take with us on our journeys; sometimes the advice is great, other times not so. Working out which is which is one of life’s challenges.

I’m well composed, which is a huge relief. In terms of setting up this shot, it really was a do-this-quickly feeling. I opted to use the remote on my phone. I was thinking later, driving back down the road, that I am attached to it more than I should be. I have other ways of setting off the camera, yet I chose the phone. Thankfully, there’s no signal out there, only cellular signals of a different nature.

After I took this shot, I knew I had something to work with, but I still did a couple more, just in case. Sometimes I do those shots as a back door; if what I’m seeing is too hard, I can always revert to something less revealing. Most of the time, I stick with the obviously tricky option, constantly in the hope that the difficulty pays dividends. Often it doesn’t, but that’s just another one of those ways that dealing with life’s past helps you solve life’s future. SIMON WILLIAMS

SIMON WILLIAMS BROUGHT HIMSELF TO THIS BEAUTIFUL LAND 14 YEARS AGO. HE LIVES WITH HIS PARTNER IN QUEENSTOWN, WHERE THEY RUN A BOUTIQUE 4WD TOUR WHICH INVITES CLIENTS TO LEAVE THEIR CAMERAS AT HOME WHILE THEIR GUIDES CAPTURE IMAGES OF THE ADVENTURE IN BREATHTAKING PHOTOGRAPHS. WWW.AUTHENTICAS.ORG


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