19 April 2009 My Evolving Avatar
Originally posted at Open Salon:
Your avatar is essentially your profile picture, but it’s really more than that. It’s the image that identifies us to one another in the various online platforms we use. None of you know me by my voice, smell, taste, or touch. It is only through sight (and, God-willing, talent) that I am familiar to you, and what you see is the tiny photograph of me that appears in your comments or on one of the updating feeds on the OS site.
Since arriving online in any significant way back in late-’07, I’ve been five avatars. The first was a red “R” standing for The Ruffian, which was my online handle starting out. At the time, antagonizing people online using my real name was out of the question, as I had just completed the LSAT and was getting read to go to law school.
Later, I eased up a bit. I figured, so what if people know it’s Pablo Manriquez. After all, there are 188 Pablo Manriquezes on Facebook alone. What’s to say it’s not one of them calling you a goat fucker? And so I created a new avatar at cooltext.com, using the Puma font. This made my information personally identifiable online…but with wiggle room.
It wasn’t until I started tweeting that I came to realize that I needed an avatar of my face, that the “PM” may be acurate, but it looked like a brand for a stank ass cologne or shitty industrial design firm. A tweeter needs a face. A storyteller needs a face.
And so I found my face in an a photo album from when I was employed as a sailor in the Caribbean back in ’07. I was awaiting my steak outside of the aptly-named “Shipwreck Tavern” on St. Thomas when my friend Sara Degennaro of West Haven, Connecticut caught my profile in an avatar-friendly sort of way. I used Sara’s picture for a time, but it created for me a twofold problem:
- I don’t really look like that anymore. My hair is much longer; my eyes, much wiser; my disposition, more refined.
- Second, Sara taught me everything I know about photography. Additionally, she’s the only person that ever managed to capture me at my most…how shall I say…inanimately complimentary. And yet, Sara is still in the islands whereas I am not.
And so I was left to take my own picture. I did so in the mirror of my parents’ basement bathroom. Thus, my avatar and I had evolved from a brand to a logo to a boatswain to a photographer.
But then last week I received word from a friend in Asia about an employment opportunity at the place where he works. The job has nothing to do with photography and I doubt they’d let an employee wear a backwards baseball cap to work. Also, with my account reopened at HuffPo, I no longer wanted to exist as an Off the Bus logo.
The time had come to create a professional avatar; and so I gave my little sister my camera and had her stand on a chair. Twenty photos later, I found that three of them turned out decent: a serious avatar, a smiling avatar, and a whimsical avatar in between. I went with the whimsical one, as it seemed to suit me best.
Thus I evolved into what you see online: