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Finding Ourselves Online, Offline, and the Spaces In Between

Editors from VICE Magazine and Broadly explain why this year's annual photo issue—in collaboration with Broadly—explores the theme of Privacy and Perception.

This editors' letter originally appeared in the Privacy & Perception Issue of Vice Magazine, created in collaboration with Broadly. You can read more stories from the issue here.

The internet has always been a place for experimentation. If you’re of a certain age, you’ll remember your first Myspace page, and every friend who made your top eight. You might remember Tumblr, too, during a time when you could match songs to a post about your first kiss—a digital diary your mom would never find. There was AIM, and chat rooms, and blogs. Now, there’s Facebook, where you can cringe at news posts your relatives find credible, feel relief every time you get a reminder for a friend’s birthday you would have missed, or anxiously watch who replies “going” to your party. There’s Instagram, for when you need to know if your ex is checking up on you, and so you can covertly stalk all your Tinder matches. And there’s Twitter, of course, a spot for sliding into DMs and finding strangers who will nod enthusiastically at your political opinions. We’ve been forming communities and expressing ourselves on the web for decades, and as the internet has evolved, we’ve become ever more cognizant of how much of ourselves we share online and who we share that information with—especially as tech giants repeatedly try to assure us they’re not mining our data, and Congress threatens the lives and livelihoods of sex workers online with dangerous legislation.


As the apps we use become a bigger part of our daily routines, the line between our “digital” lives and “real” lives is increasingly blurred: How do we distinguish between these two selves? Should we even have to? Are our identities in these spaces really so separate? When is our online life more real than the one we lead of offline? These are a few of the questions we pose in the Privacy & Perception Issue, our annual photo issue.

Identity is crucial to the artists we chose, as is digital representation. As we move further on to the internet, photographers have had to confront how they execute their work, and where, simply, they want it to be viewed. They understand that who we are online directly impacts our lived reality, and our most basic and crucial interactions with one another. With that in mind, we divided this issue into four chapters—privacy, sexuality, intimacy, and gender—and enlisted a diverse set of photographers and journalists to confront these topics. In the “privacy” chapter, for example, cover photographer Laurence Philomene tricks viewers into thinking they’re snapping self-portraits, when in reality the subjects are other people posing as them. Matt Lambert ponders “sexuality” with photos from the set of his X-rated short lm, which blur the line between gay friendship and physical attraction. In “intimacy,” Ziggy Mack- Johnson and Sophia Wilson explore the inherent biases in the media and fashion industries, and how we should all “have the freedom to dress and behave however [we] feel comfort- able.” And, in regard to “gender,” Aarti Singh and Jake Naughton capture the LGBTQ community in India, and how they’re able—and not able—to truly show themselves.

This issue is also done in collaboration with Broadly, our gender- and identity-focused site, as these topics directly intersect with the vertical’s core pillars: power, life, culture, and lore. At Broadly, while covering what’s happening in the world each day, we put an emphasis on uncovering what it feels like to be alive in this world—and to diversify whose experiences are included in our generation’s narrative. In this issue, we look at the myriad forces that can shape our identities, with a focus on that space that sits between the digital and the corporeal, and touches our most private and most public selves. Diana Tourjée explores the way avatars allowed her to escape her own body and experience a new identity long before transitioning from male to female. Gabrielle Birkner searches for the intimate details of her late father’s life in the corners of the internet—every archived link an unturned stone with the possibility of new information. Najma Sharif reflects on the power of alt-accounts that allowed her as a black Muslim woman of the Somali diaspora to momentarily retreat from both the invisibility and hypervisibility of her public identity and and a place to privately script the storyline to her own life. And Tom Rasmussen shares how quickly secrecy can fold into shame, especially when it comes to our sexual desires, and how, at times, we can shift our own narrative by prioritizing honesty over privacy.

It’s our hope that you leave these pages with a deeper understanding of how the lives we live online and of offline, in public and private, can both mirror one another and create distance and distinction from the other—and that how our own identities in these ever-multiplying spaces take shape is always a matter of perception.

— The Editors