I've always told myself I ignored my birthday because birthday celebrations are reprehensibly narcissistic. It takes a special kind of self-importance to not only personally venerate, but to also expect the world to cast petals at your feet, because hallowed be the day you fell out of your mother's vagina.
I've always told myself celebrations are for achievements and falling out of a vagina isn't an achievement. At least, that's what I've always told myself. My principled anti-birthday stance seemed unassailable in my 20s. Yet, as I near my 34th year of existence, I wonder if I'm still convinced by my own argument.
This year, I felt strangely compelled not necessarily to celebrate, but more so to commemorate my cumulative existence. With that in mind, it only made sense to photograph something that has been with me since my existence began: a 2.5-inch slim teardrop of burgundy-stained raised skin just behind by cheek.
Because of its placement, its hard for me to see it. Because its hard for me to see it, its easy for me to ignore – at least until an unfamiliar child points to the side of my face:
"That", of course, is a shamefully hideous birthmark, guilelessly ill-mannered small person. Like all marks, it denotes a distinct point in time. The mark I've discussed so far denotes my birth, but it's not alone.
This aboriginal mark is surrounded by an ever-expanding constellation of small, flat, brown moles. These moles mark time in a different way. Most of these were not present when I was born. Rather, they appear one or two at a time after every sun-soaked summer. In doing so, they mark the passage of years ( and an elevated risk for skin cancer. :-/ ).
These marks are especially meaningful because they remind me not so much of my start as they do my every-advancing march to an end. As death becomes less of an idea in the foggy distance, and more of a clearly resolved certitude, I become less convinced of my principled anti-birthday argument. It becomes ever more obvious that even as I construct high-minded reasons to ignore my birthdays, time continues to leave its mark(s).
And that kind of makes me want to buy a cake.
Noah Stephens is a photographer, essayist and founder of The People of Detroit Photodocumentary - a media project dedicated to dynamic, interesting people in the storied birthplace of American auto manufacturing. Since its inception in April 2010, TPOD has received national and international attention. Portraits from the project have appeared in Bloomberg BusinessWeek, Fast Company and other national publications.
In early 2011, a creative director saw the project on flickr.com and hired Noah to shoot an ad campaign for McDonald's Corporation in Shanghai, China.
The People of Detroit Photodocumentary is funded in part by a grant from CEOS for Cities and the John S. And James L. Knight Foundation.