While I am standing before the tomb at the very end of the cemetery, I think of nothing.

Marie Redonnet, Silsie


Rarely am I photographed. Put differently: I rarely let myself be shot.

Most of my life I felt sufficiently an Indian to know that to be exposed to a camera meant that my soul would disappear into it. For this reason there exist, fortunately, very few images of your writer.

Why then, now and then, such an image? In most cases solely for my own use or to get a travel document – or simply as documentation of my decay, this in the certainty that, should the soul disappear in the camera or in the image, it would be my own device consuming it. Self preservation.

Also to see if one can succeed – after all, it is quite an undertaking! Not only do you need a well reflecting surface. There is also the predicament that while one points the camera at oneself, you cannot gaze through the viewfinder because your face must be in view of the lens. You never know exactly what and how this is captured in the image.

It takes quite a few attempts to produce a satisfactory result.




This image does contain myself, however it cannot be called a self-portrait. My express intention here was to get a good shot of the samurai equipment. Of course, also with the idea to catch the photographer as if wearing the cuirass. Even though it did not come off quite right, the result is intriguing enough to be published.

It is the geographical context which gives an extra touch to all this. The photographer is standing in a tiny alley, just off the little bit grander main street of the small county town of Le Blanc, situated in the department of the Creuse, also located in the ‘region’ of the French Brenne.

Not only this armour is filling the shop window. There are also huge Japanese swords displayed in costly cases, besides Western revolvers and an assembly of other types of gun. Also showing, twice legibly, is an appeal to Become our distributor.




In this corner of a very Anglophobe country not only the English is amazing, one should also expect the shop itself to have that distributorship.




Everything about this show window is puzzling. What, I wonder, would be the probability coefficient of someone travelling these backwoods of France with the express purpose to buy a samurai sword in Le Blanc? Or put otherwise: What might be the chance that such a person ends up walking the Lord’s Lanes in this provincial town, drifting in front of this shop window and then, in all innocence, saying to himself: ‘Come on, why not buy myself a samurai armour today!’

In short: A remarkable photo, with me in it. But no self-portrait.




This, then, is such a self-portrait, camera in hand. It is a little fuzzy, but I may be identified. Again, this take is one image in yet a long series of failed shots. Only afterwards can you see what is ‘successful’.

One may observe the photographer concentrating himself very hard on finding the right angle for his device, then trying to properly focus and stop shivering in order to motionlessly push its button. All this the guaranty for a unique portrait without any posing.

The one thing in which the photographer is certainly not interested here, is how he will appear on the picture. But, my goodness, how gloomy and tired I look!

Would I myself like to make contact with this man, commune with him? I don’t think so, though I realize all too well that in my case there is now way out of this. The Two of Us, albeit not in the Moravian sense of: ‘Me and my little Fellow-traveller’. No – The two of us – my self-image and me.

Am I here already a man marked by a wasting disease? Could be. Or is a tiff with a loved one throwing dark shadows over my mind? Could also be the case. Yet, in the act of making the photo these things were blotted out from consciousness.

This is my face, expressing my Self in the moment when there’s no social mirror nearby. When I took this shot at myself there was no Gaze of the Other present – that eye to which one normally presents one self.

This, then, is my true self.

Sierksma, La Roche 15.4/2016


Author: rjsiersk

Sierksma was born in Friesland, a 'county' in the northern part of the Netherlands with its own language which he does not speak and with an obstinate population to which he both belongs and does not belong. A retired Professor of Social Philosophy and Aesthetics, as a Harkness fellow he taught at Rutgers and Berkeley Universities in the USA, and at GUAmsterdam and TUDelft in the Netherlands. In 1991 he was awarded his PhD from Leiden University on the subject of 'Surveillance and Task: Labour Discipline between Utilitarianism and Pragmatism'. His books include Minima Memoria (1993), Lost View (2002 with Jan van Geest), and Litter Scent (2013). He has published poems and articles in Te Elfder Ure, Nynade, Oasis and the Architectural Annual. Half the year he lives in Haarlem, the other half he spends in la France Profonde, living ‘in his own words’ as the house out there was bought with the winnings from his essay Eternal Sin, written for the ECI Essay Prize (1993). In this blog, Sierksma's Sequences, written in English, he is peeping round his own and other people’s perspectives. Not easily satisfied with answers nor with questions, he turns his wry wit to a number of philosophical and historical issues. His aim in writing: to make parts of the world light up in his perspective - not my will, thine! Not being a thief, he has no cook, one wife, some children, one lover and three cats.

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