I never thought I would be sitting here, telling you all of this.
For context: I’m sitting at the countertop of my old apartment in San Francisco. My best friend still lives here, and it still smells of the teakwood and tobacco diffuser we’d been using before I left. I may have fantasized that this was a Vogue cover story and the writer was setting the scene for our encounter.
It’s an unseasonably warm day in San Francisco and I’m sitting at the new hot cafe on Valencia Street. The ever-so-iconic golden hour light streams in through the windows, illuminating my perfectly poured cappuccino even more perfectly. As I look up, Ashley effortlessly walks through the double doors. She immediately takes her sunglasses off to greet me with a hug. She treats me as if we’ve known each other forever. I wonder if she does that with everyone, or if our bond was chemical and instant.
I’m ‘home’ in SF for the time being, but everything has changed. Everything is always changing. Par example, after 30 years living in the San Francisco Bay Area, I took an Amtrak train across the country and moved to New York. Decided to be courageous in love, even with 100% guaranteed rejection and wrote someone a letter about how I felt. Got over my insane, crippling fear of flying.
I never thought I would be sitting here, telling you all of this, let alone in relation to me.
For the past few years, I’ve regularly taken self-portraits. It all started with a 24 hour portrait stint that I endured on a San Francisco rooftop. Then it turned into a secret repository on the internet of self-documented crying. And now, the good people of Seldom Seen have asked me to create a new set. We chose pieces that are nostalgic of my San Francisco roots and paired them with interesting cuts and materials that are reminiscent of Ashley 2.0: the new, New York Ashley.
There are infinite motivations for self-portraiture. Yayoi Kusama created “Self-Obliteration,” using polka dots to cover people, animals, and objects; all in an effort to give up identity and remove uniqueness. I just happened to do the exact opposite.
A few years ago, I hit mental rock bottom. It was terrifying and equally freeing. There was no farther to go. I had touched the depths - but I was somehow still here.
Mizuta Masahide wrote an evocative poem that I've interpreted as this very moment I've experienced:
Barn's burnt down --
I can see the moon.
Self-portraits are my self-expression. I want to look at a photo I’ve taken of myself and observe where my moles are and how my brows furrow. I want to look at a photo of me and intuit what I'm feeling. Although an image is inherently biased, I'm committed to my own. And no one can take that away from me.