In Asia, people wearing surgical masks are everywhere. in the market, on the train, in the restaurants, airports, parks, even at work.
The masked people
It can be a strange sight for westerners who associate surgical masks with hospitals. That's why we call them surgical masks.yet in Asia, surgical masks are worn for any number of reasons and can be purchased in every one of the thousands of 7-Elevens sprayed throughout the cities.
Hunting down the Masked people:
In 2011 I was admiring a friends instagram photographs. I loved how he was able to photograph random people in public places like the MRT or out on the street. I had always been interested in taking photo's of people, but never had the courage to go out and just do it. When I asked him about his technique, he shared a video with me of a young American street-photographer named Eric Kim who had made some videos of himself doing street photography. His videos inspired me to try it for myself, and I loved it. For me, it was more about the activity of doing it instead of the quality of the photographs I could take. The photographs just became a reminder of the interaction that would take place.
In the first few rolls of film I shot (I was shooting almost exclusively on film at the time) I noticed I had taken a few shots of people wearing surgical masks. I was intrigued. Because of the masks there was a certain mystery that I was attracted to. So I started hunting these people built up quite a collection. You can view most of these here.
The masked girl.
I started imagining a girl wearing a mask. she lived in a world of black and white and never took off the mask—Shopping, eating, watching tv, she never left home without it. She had very few friends. The people who knew her had never seen her entire face. She had only a partial identity. It wasn't that she was hiding anything in-particular, she just chose not to show it.
More Photos from The Masked Girl can be viewed here.
I wondered what masks me and my family wore. What things we never exposed to each other, but secretly wanted to. Some pieces of information or expression we kept concealed behind our virtual masks.
With this idea in mind, I mailed each person in my family an envelope containing a surgical mask and asked them to take a photo of themselves wearing it. I also asked them to write something they had always wanted to share with the rest of us, but maybe never had the chance or never felt comfortable with. I simply wanted to explore the mystery of the mask with my own family and myself a bit more, and this was my way to experiment with that.
“My dad. He died before all of you were born and i didn’t have the greatest relationship with him. I never felt loved by my father. In fact, I was pretty much always afraid of him. I have early memories of trying to get his attention, looking for praise, and wanting to be daddies little girl. But even in wanting his love, I always felt fear. Never safe.
My dad was a tall, large man. He was an only child, and never really interacted with us (I'm sure six kids were overwhelming!) He didn’t know how to show fatherly love or really be a father. My mom loved us and we knew it, but raising six kids so close in age was difficult and exhausting.
I knew my dad liked to drink. Alcohol was a big part of relatives getting together. But the older I got, the more violent my father became. When I was 14, my sister and I were having an argument, my dad came up to me and hit me so hard on the side of the head, he broke my eardrum. His hands were Large... there were broken dishes, loud, angry fightings, and having to call the ambulance more than once because my dad would fall somewhere and nobody was strong enough to pick him up. There was always fear lurking around. I became a very troubled, rebellious teenager. angry, hurt, and fearful.
Having my children brought me a whole new world. I loved being pregnant. I loved giving birth and being with my children. I was so happy to be able to stay at home and raise my kids. And I vowed that my children would always know they were loved and safe and protected from harm. They would have no reason to be fearful. I vowed never to hit my children in the head or face. And NEVER tell my kids "wait til your father gets home". I wanted the "perfect" family, with Love and Joy abounding.
Then one day my world fell apart. And I had failed. My earthly father, I felt, had failed me. My heavenly father, I felt, had failed me. And now I had failed my children. I had loved them but I hadn’t kept them safe. I hadn’t protected them. I became angry and hurt and fearful. All over again. As a teen I ran away. Now where could I run. I even asked God to please let me somehow die, so it would all go away.
So I lived in fear and became my fathers daughter. The rest is history. What I'm saying to my kids, is that I felt I had failed as a mother. That I hadn’t protected them and kept them safe. I know now that isn't true. I may not have been all that I should have, but I did not fail to protect my children. Life is not "perfect". We don’t have total control of everything in life. It took me on another journey that let me loose them all for a time.
To end this, I say to my children how proud I am of all of you...of where you all are in life now. And I'm at a better place, as a better person in life now also...I would never have let you all know this about me, about how I felt, because I never could have started this conversation between us...I feel freed somehow. I feel healing in writing this. And maybe I will be a little more understood also.
“One of the things I know that many parents might regret is when they have children and they don’t have many parenting skills. I didn't have a clue as a father how to raise children and it was often a daunting task attempting to do the right thing so they would have a healthy well-rounded outlook on life.
I went on a particular path that I thought would be good based on the resources that were available to me at the time. Since we as a family spent a good portion of our time in the south it turned out to be religion and the bible as a guide.
I now think I could have done a little better instead of thinking faith was going to raise my children. I now feel more moderate and maybe that comes with age and time, which softens some of us. I would tell my children now that if I had something to do-over it would be my role as a father-teacher-mentor.”
"Growing up I remember telling my mother I wanted to adopt children, but never said I wanted to have kids of my own. I was afraid of commitment and responsibility to another person. Afraid of true love? I didn't even understand what that was.
At 22, I still had no intentions of having children. I had been through so many life-trials. I had no idea who I was or wanted to be, but I knew it didn't involve kids. My dad always told me "If you want to wreck your life, have a baby."
At 22 I met a man who would change my whole existence in so many ways in such a short period of time. I was almost 3 months pregnant by the time I found out. I was in shock. I was scared. I felt alone, angry and didn't know what i wanted to do. I had just started school, thinking about career, just got a place, just got a car. I was afraid. I decided though that I could handle these things. I decided to become a mother.
I had serious complications during my pregnancy. Preclampsyia is what they called my condition. Stress on my babies growth rate, stress on me. Stress with the father who was my boyfriend. I had so much fear, so much doubt. I cried every day and prayed every night.
I went to the hospital sick at 6 months pregnant, and was told I would be admitted and induced. I was suffering liver and kidney failure and extremely high blood pressure. I was told that myself and my baby could die.
Taliyah was born perfect. Healthy and small. My prayers were answered. I cant explain the emotions I went through during that next month. There are no words that can help you understand. All I had was love. No fear, no failure, no regret.”
“I always knew that I was different when I was young, and when it came to my sexuality. I can remember being eight years old, and already having an interest in boys. I may not have been able to recognize or understand it, but it was there.
It wasn't until I was 12 years old that I really knew I was gay. Coming to this realization at such a young age presented me with many obstacles, emotionally and mentally. The 90's were a different time than today, and homosexuality wasn't as accepted as it seems to be now. Throw in the fact that we went to private Christian-based schools and I found myself feeling very alone. I had no one to talk to, no one to ask questions to, no one to understand me, no one to help me understand myself.
I didn't have any friends that I could have told at that age, and in that time. The word would have gotten out, and I would have been labeled the fag, or the queer or something. I also couldn't tell my family.
I never felt like it was something I could talk to my brother about either. He was three years older than me, and had already developed a healthy interest in girls by the time I knew I was gay. We also didn't really get along that well when we were in our teens. I guess I never really had any interest in telling him, but I'm not sure he would have wanted or cared to listen anyway, and I doubt he would have understood. He always saw me as the weird little brother, and an embarrassment to him. I'm sure he knew that I was different, but he never said anything to me, or asked me.
I spent the better part of my teen years, and into my twenties feeling very alone in the world. I felt unable to tell my family, my friends, and I felt unable to even really accept it about myself. I tried my best to hide it, change myself to what I thought the world considered normal, and all it did was destroy me. It wasn't until my late twenties that I finally came out to my friends and family. I had finally reached a place in my life where I had excepted myself and was happy with who I was sexually, and it didn't matter anymore what anyone thought of me because of it."
"I sometimes felt it was hard for me to express certain feelings I had about growing up. It's not that I felt it wasn't allowed, I just wasn't sure how to go about doing it. By the time I got around to facing some of my own mixed feelings, it seemed everyone else had moved on.
That being said, I feel bad about being such a downer sometimes, but in contrast to that I’ve always felt a strange pressure to be happy. As if it was my duty to be happy and prove that it was possible. To set a good example to everyone maybe. I sometimes felt I needed to be successful and do things the right way for the sake of everyones sanity. Be the one who could do things the right way.
I felt guilty that I might have appeared to be successful. As if my life was better than others, or as if I had things more together in life. Inside I didn't feel better or more successful or that I had anything together in my life at all. And that made me feel even more guilty.
I feel bad about the way I treated my brother when we were younger. I wish it had been different, but I don't think I knew how to handle the situations we found ourselves in. But in spite of it, I have a lot of good memories with my brother from when we were young. And I still remember those.
I always wanted to apologize to my mom and dad for not trying harder to support them when they were going through hard times. It's easy for me to become super self-focused. I often forget that others are going through a lot as well, and need support and understanding too. My parents worked very hard, and did the best they could. I’m grateful for that.
I'm very thankful for the family I have actually. In reality there's very little that we don't know about each other. And I'm lucky to have parents that allow me to be open and honest with them when I choose to be.Maybe my family is the only group of people who really knows the me who wears a mask, and the me when it comes off."