I take a lot of photos. If you’ve met me or have spent even a little time on this website, you probably already know this. However what’s a little less apparent are all the video clips I’ve filmed over the years. After spending the last weeks of winter stuck in an artistic rut, I decided to delve into the decade’s worth of visual media I’ve stored up on my laptop, and use a new art-form to relive it all again.
As the number of various adult admin tasks ramped up, I ended up in a bit of a rut. Sometimes it’s a little hard to be creative when you’re going through the motions of a weekly routine, with few stand-out experiences to kick-start that creativity. So I turned to the more artistic corners of the internet I spend my free time in, and looked to an always reliable inspiration source – the Art Assignment.
If you haven’t heard of the Art Assignment I recommend checking it out. Essentially it’s a web series hosted by Sarah Urist Green, former curator of the Indianapolis Museum of Art (with occasional co-hosting duties carried out by her husband, writer and vlogger John Green). In keeping with its name, the series sets art assignments provided by different professional artists, for the viewer to try out. As I turned to the webseries for some inspiration, one assignment set by New York-based artist Toyin Odutola caught my eye.
The assignment was simple – think of something intimate that is indispensable to you and depict it in the form of a GIF. I instantly took to the task because while I’ve happily shared many a GIF on social media (this one is particular favourite), I’d never made my own one before. Also the assignment solved the lack of creative experiences in my weekly routine by allowing me use what I already had – namely the shit-tonne of home video clips I’ve captured over the years and stored on my laptop.
With my next creative goal sorted, that I set up a GIF-maker account, and went to the archives of my laptop hard-drive in search of something indispensable from 10 years’ worth of visual media.
Most of the videos I found are just clips of me and my friends hanging out and talking about music. Some are more adventurous, capturing the Peruvian amazon at sunrise, the Berlin skyline at night, the Batu caves in Malaysia, and a furry music festival-mascot with a playful sense of humour (all below- the last one I mentioned is a lot more PG than that description suggested). However the majority are just home-video style videos of my teenage years in the suburbs (where, judging by the content of these videos there apparently wasn’t a lot to do). But it’s these ones that were the most intriguing to me, because whilst watching the typical happenings of my teenage life and that of my friends, I realised how much had changed between now and then, more than my blurry memories of teenagehood had suggested.
I’ve always had memories, but it’s only now, after taking all these videos and reviewing them like archival footage, that I’ve realised I have history too. I have history now. There’s a distance between who I am now and who I was four, five years ago that I was only able to see whilst watching these old video clips. Differences in the way I look, move and talk. All visual evidence reminding me of who I used to be. Not all of the reminders are welcome however.
My usual reaction to the past is to let it serve as a reminder of how far I’ve come in the years leading from it to now. I’ve always painted my adolescence as a sequence of awkward, embarrassing teenage experiences I would do well to distance myself from. This negative view of the past is the counter-side I‘ve often used in moments of success, to make those achievements seem greater or more unlikely given my perceived shortcomings. It’s the reason I never really liked going back to my hometown between uni terms, or seeing old pictures of myself. ‘Teenage Me’ isn’t a fondly recalled figure in my mind. He’s insecure, awkward, overly defensive, unpopular, and particularly lanky in the 2011-2013 era.
However Teenage Me as I imagined him wasn’t the main feature of these old videos, and neither was the uncomfortable adolescence I’ve tried to keep a distance from. The video clips showed me a different perspective of the past then my own. They showed me a more objective one, detached from my own insecurities, where my friends and I were just being ourselves, together in all our nerdy, awkward glory. In the clips from my last years at school, when I used to wonder if other people could tolerate my weird, awkward self, I saw acceptance from my friends as we planned our own themed parties, discussed Mario-Kart strategies and filmed each other sledging in parks on snow days (again there is not a lot to do in the suburbs).
I’ve remembered my teenage years as cringe-worthy or embarrassing for sure, but rarely as fun ones. However that’s the gap in my history the videos filled. When you are constantly reminding yourself of what you lack, sometimes you need another perspective to show you of what you have.
It’s taken me a while, but now I’m finally realising that maybe the past isn’t just a realm of insecurity and embarrassment I needed to distance myself from or overcome in order to succeed. Maybe it was part of my successes, an indispensable part that gave me plenty of good experiences for every bad one. The friendships I started back then (and still have now) that showed me that even at my nerdiest and most insecure, I still wasn’t alone. The fun I had growing up – simple fun like making a gif to share in a group chat or on a blog.
So that’s what I got from this little visual nostalgia trip. Something fun, simple and available to replay any time I want. For me, that’s a whole new way of looking at the past.
My Art Assignment – A series of past, indispensable experiences in GIF form: