In creating and re-creating our image to impress our viewers and followers, have we lost sight of who we truly are?
Enhance. Contrast. Warm. Filter. Crop. Smooth.
Inside every handheld device today is a magical wand that in minutes can transform the most mundane facets of daily reality into print-perfect advertisements capturing the image we want to project.
From the moment we rise to when we retire for the day, we are preoccupied with the need to create images of ourselves. Consider the “about to head out on the town to hang at the cool new lounge (so sorry you’re on the couch watching TV)” social media post. Or the online dating site “I like to make pancakes on Sunday mornings, read the paper cuddled on the couch and, yes, I do look like this when I wake up in bed with my dog” profile pic.
From professional networks to social media channels, technology has accelerated our ability to brand ourselves in any way we choose. Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Tinder and Snapchat are the modern lens that lets us morph ourselves into some other version of ourselves we feel we need to be. On any given day, we can coexist as a professional looking for the next career advancement, the consoling best friend, the on-the-town social wrangler and the social activist, and be comfortably at home sitting on the couch in pjs and slippers.
And, today, building an individual brand can be very lucrative. Models Kendall Jenner and Gigi Hadid burst onto the fashion scene driven in part by their power to influence millions of followers. The Kardashians, Beyonce, Rihanna—all have elevated image into multimillion-dollar brand enterprises.
More often than not, image is an illusion of the truth, a fantasy that we idolize of physical perfection, luxury and wealth. Yet what do we really know about these celebrities or, even, of each other?
Image has always been an important means of representing a public figure and their
beliefs. But before technology catapulted every individual into their own 15 minutes of fame, celebrities, politicians and artists built their image and brand slowly and consistently. This unwavering and authentic representation of their ideas and talents garnered them a following and often a platform to advance causes significant to them.
Harry Houdini, Mata Hari, Josephine Baker and Jack Kerouac. Four icons separated by decades who epitomized how image can be used to entertain, deceive, influence and shatter conventional wisdom. Each developed an authentic image over time and used it to express their true beliefs in meaningful and influential ways.
The Illusionist. There’s Something Up My Sleeve
Houdini, despite his own use of deception to entertain and to draw crowds, used his position to expose and debunk fraudulent psychics. While he leveraged illusion to
entertain and shaped what eventually became an industry, he found those who used deception to take advantage of individuals as reprehensible. The illusionist vs. the charlatans.
The Femme Fatale. Beware the Temptress
The Provocateur. The Devil Made Me Do It
Mata Hari and Josephine Baker used their images as powerful and sexual beings to gain influence and power at a time when women were not afforded an equal voice. Unfortunately for Mata Hari, her deceptive use of image and power led her to dangerous situations including alleged espionage and,
ultimately, her execution. For Baker, image and talent allowed her the freedom to express herself and to build a strong following, which she used as a platform to fight for freedom, equality and civil rights both in Europe and, eventually, in her own country, which was slow to appreciate her true celebrity and talent.
The Iconoclast. Rebel With A Cause.
Kerouac may seem at odds with this group. He did not create an illusion or promote his own image. In fact, much like contemporary icon Kurt Cobain, he had an image thrust upon him by the public. He reluctantly represented a generation and their movement away from
conventional thinking. His emotionally raw writing style captured the randomness and non-manufactured experiences of life as he saw and, more importantly, felt them. While he influenced generations of artists, he craved a simpler life and shunned the fame and privilege that often comes with celebrity image.
Each of these four personas – the illusionist, the femme fatale, the provocateur, the iconoclast – are still relevant today. They represent a facet of reality that exists underneath every image we project. In today’s fast-paced, ever-changing society, they can represent how we choose to express our authentic self.
soundoff is about the spirit of expression. How do you soundoff?
Be who you are. Live who you are. Wear who you are.
written by: Daryl Sneed, Natasha Goburdhun
edited by: Suzanne Claussen
art by: Bret Grafton