I’m not afraid to admit it. I love getting my photograph taken. I probably have said that already before. As a kid, I was so self-conscious and insecure that my dad never liked to take my photo. He used to ask all my siblings to pose for him and when he came to me, he’d raise the camera and tell me to just look into the camera or look away. I’d do it and he wouldn’t take the picture. He’d call out, “Relax your mouth. Your tense. Just relax.”
He wouldn’t take the picture. This was the time of film and I guess he didn’t want to waste film on a photo he knew was going to be bad.
So I never really liked having my photos taken when I was younger. Every family picture we’d have, someone would always tell me (usually my dad) that I looked self-conscious. They point to my mouth and show me the tightness, the point where you could see that I was stressing out over what the image was going to look like.
I was just six or seven or eight. This lasted a very long time, all the way into high school. So I never really liked having my photo taken. When I was in college, I had a default facial expression when someone would take out a camera. I’d just open my mouth wide and make the goofiest, happiest face I could make. If I looked funny on purpose, they wouldn’t notice that I was self-conscious. I did this for most of my teenage years and all through my early twenties.
Big goofy smile. That was my trick.
But I ended up having friends who liked taking pictures and eventually I got used to having my photographs taken and I usually never shared these photos with my family. Eventually, I learned how to relax.
When I became public with my HIV status, all of a sudden there were lots and lots of opportunities for me to have my photos taken. They wrote features about me, I went on television, I spoke in live events. All of a sudden, it became something I did. Let’s just say I got really comfortable with the camera.
And now, I love having my photos taken. It has a lot to do with the HIV and having almost died three times already, I’m sure. Like the more photos of me there are in the world, the less chances I have of being forgotten. Like the more photos of me there are in the world, the more I can keep track of the journey I’ve taken since diagnosis. Each photo shows me getting thinner, gaining the weight back, getting stronger, getting weaker, me being happy in 2012, me being sad in 2014, me in Portugal and Barcelona and Madrid in 2014, me hanging out with my No Filter family in 2015, and me hanging out with my Hanging Out family in 2017.
All the beaches I’ve ever got to and who I was with while I was there. Colored photographs showing when I was so pale from having been indoors the whole time and, on the flip side, the colored photographs that showed me fresh back from the beach and tanned and dark-skinned and feeling like I look all glorious in my Asian-ness.
I’m so happy that one of my closest friends, Cez Golez, has a annual portrait project and I’ve gotten some great photos from her every year. My work in publishing has connected me with amazing photographers, like Joseph Pascual and Jake Versoza. I have photos of myself taken by them. Good friends with a magnificent sense of composition and light like Cat Juan Ledesma and Carlo Ledesma have all taken my photo.
I’ve been here for almost a week now and I now have photos by Shaira Luna, whom I love dearly, and by director Paolo Ruiz, who I just met and who took my photos for his daily portrait project on Instagram. My friend Brendan will be taking my photos soon too for an art project of his as well.
This is good. This makes me happy. Lots and lots of things are going to happen for me on 2017. I want this year recorded and documented. This is good.
This makes me happy.