This essay originally appeared in the Privacy & Perception Issue of Vice Magazine, created in collaboration with Broadly. You can read more stories from the issue here.
Chris Bethell’s photography frequently centers on stories of personal expression. He’s shot people showing off their “revenge dress” looks, a term famously embodied by what Princess Diana wore in public right after Prince Charles announced he had cheated on her, and he’s shot others wearing the first clothes they put on to display their femme identities. For this series, he took portraits of subjects, and put them beside a computer monitor that displays their old online avatars. Some, for instance, are next to their Neopets; others, their RPG characters. In doing this, Bethell says that he hoped “to take [his] audience back to a time when the internet was still a mythical beast, where you could be whoever you wanted to be.” The internet, he recognizes, used to be a place where you “weren’t tied to how you looked, what you did for a career, and how successful you were.” For him, avatars were something you could project yourself onto—for others to see, interpret, and, perhaps, find something in common with one another. And though he admits we have different ways to present versions of ourselves online—via our Facebook feeds, or our witty musings on Twitter, or our highly curated Instagrams—he thinks something is missing.
“The same fictions still exist” on the internet, he insists, but we make them in such a way “for our audiences to perceive [them] as the whole truth.”
“We read other people’s lives as being whole and perfect,” he says, “and only experience our own non-curated moments.”