Since childhood, I’ve always been drawn to photo collages. Curating and combining images like pieces to a puzzle. Wrapping them up into one aesthetic whole.
It started with scrapbooking. My mom was the scrapbook queen, always dazzling up our family vacations and life milestones with the perfect combinations of card stock and patterned paper. It awed me. She eventually bought me my own book to fill. I loved digging through her materials in search of the perfect elements for a particular page. What theme to stick to? Which photos to use? How to arrange them? The process thrilled me.
Then came Myspace. Just as I was becoming a savvy enough teen to be able to hold my own in the budding digital world of T9 text messaging and AIM buddy profiles, Myspace came along and changed the game.
For one, it brought my scrapbooking online. Where I once debated over patterned paper and edging scissors, I was now experimenting with layout codes and Photoshop. I learned all that I possibly could about designing my profile and making it altogether aesthetically pleasing.
Secondly, I suddenly had a stage. Before, I would select photos for my scrapbook without a care in the world as to who might view them or what they might think. Now, on Myspace, the concept of having an audience was in the forefront of my mind at every turn. What would my top 8 think of this new profile pic? Would the boy I had a crush on in school see it? How many photo comments would I receive?
Lastly, while there were once many pages in my scrapbook full of different themes/events/people in my life, my Myspace profile consolidated everything into one themed page. One long, scrolling page. The scrapbook page of me.
Maintaining the online me started occupying all of the living, breathing me’s time. I would change my layout with my mood, tending to it as if it were a pet. Time spent with friends almost always involved bringing my digital camera along and having Myspace photoshoots, sometimes editing and uploading the photos that same night. In such a fragile time as middle school when I questioned my every move and had little to no self-esteem, the online me was confident, quirky, and in control. She was a rock-solid alter ego at a time when my actual ego was as soft as a marshmallow.
In high school, as Facebook drowned out Myspace, I found a new online outlet to retain my aesthetic expression: Tumblr. Here, I would simply reblog photos I thought were cool. Photos I didn’t even take myself. Artsy shots of sunsets and forests and my favorite bands and far-away places. I made sure these images all paired well together as they cascaded down my blog into one beautiful online photo collage. A collection of images that I thought represented me and what I was all about. Images I thought alluded to some sort of depth within me — even if they were not my own. Here, I dramatically thought, the online me was baring her soul.
When I went to college, Instagram took off and became the mecca of image-driven social media that we know it as today. This platform restricted my online scrapbook even more. Here I got one photo, one filter, and one caption at a time to present something I deemed worthy to my audience on a 2×4 inch screen. Better make it authentic, witty, and fun! Those qualities were the foundation upon which I initially built the online me after all.
With Instagram, my fixation on collage aesthetics arose when I’d take stock of all the photos I’d posted and see how all the little squares lined up on my profile. I would fret if one of the photos felt out of place, for whatever reason, next to all the others. No matter what the individual post was about, if it didn’t feel in line with what I believed to be the overall image of the online me, I would consider deleting it down the road.