Who Are We?



This is about the influence of surroundings so I will take ‘backgrounds’ to mean the location we find ourselves in at any given moment, rather than factors of family and upbringing.

How we choose to situate ourselves is a compromise between preference and predicament. Mostly our choice is hampered by lack of resources, sometimes by interpersonal commitments. If we are lucky, we may reach an accommodation with ourselves having achieved the best outcome within our limited means.

In considering how ‘our backgrounds say a lot about who we are’ I did a little thought experiment, visualising snapshots of me, since this morning, in the settings I’ve inhabited today. Presented with this series of pictures, the average viewer would be able to form a pretty well informed opinion of my circumstances.

He’d see me at home and in a car. As supervisor to a learner driver*. Using a computer. Taking medication and so on. These snapshots would inform the viewer’s opinion of my identity and based on their own experience of people in similar settings they may draw personal conclusions from the material available to them. They arrive at these conclusions based on how they interpret the effects of the setting.

That’s how a viewer may see me. How I see myself is rather different because only I (and people who know me) can be aware of the extent to which I am a product of circumstance and how much is down to intent.

“Perhaps you are an introvert. What does this mean about how you move through physical places?”

Well I went to bed last night with this question in mind and it kept me awake for a while as I tried to work out what it meant. I awoke seven hours later but no wiser. I accept that yes, I am a bit of an introvert but I have no idea how that influences my movement through physical places. What other kinds of places are there? It may influence my progress in non-physical places – (‘what’s he on about now? How can you move through nonphysical places?) – by which I mean Dreams and Imaginings! (‘Oh yeah, right’). But since I have no basis for comparison I really couldn’t say.

Much of the confusion I am experiencing here relates to uncertain definitions, which hopefully will resolve as I progress through the course. Let’s take one of them:

Identity – English. Father. 61. White. Male. Primary/secondary educated. Brother.

Are these components of identity or simply identifiers? They are verifiable factual matters, so they are certainly influential in both how they have formed me and how I am perceived by others.

Identity – Quiet. Shy. Reckless. Cautious. Impulsive. Prudent. Yes all of those things at different times and under different circumstances. These are aspects of personality rather than identity.

The spaces between buildings are resolutely mute on the matter of identity, as they are on every other subject, but perhaps they suggest inferences which may be made if taken with the presence of an individual.

This idea of ‘The Self’ has been the subject of extensive philosophical and psychological discourse over many centuries so an attempt to squeeze in a succinct summary for the purposes of a course in photography is unlikely to be beneficial. With this in mind, I’ll simply accept that some superficial notions of ‘self’ can usefully embellish our interpretation of pictures and use this as a working assumption in the months to come.


Sometimes I talk myself into a position or opinion, and then right out of it in the space of a few paragraphs. Even within the same sentence! This is my process – all of this coursework is provisional – but I obviously do my best to buckle down when it comes to proper essay writing.

*I am not a driving instructor or examiner