What is an identity? How do we identify ourselves?

Ruth HartleyCreativity, Family, Human rights, Identity, Photography, Poetry, Refugee2 Comments

How do we identify ourselves?

Two men are busy installing 4 large photographs on a stone wall.

Tanvir Bush’s photographs in the courtyard of the MDA Maurbourguet

What is identity? What criteria do any of us use to identify ourselves? Is it appearance? Tribe? Work? Status? Religion? Why do we need an identity? What do we use our identity for? To belong somewhere? To exclude another or many others? What identity do we think we have in someone else’s eyes?

We are always taking photographs or having them taken of us on cameras or on our smartphones. It’s the age of the selfie.

Do these images tell the truth about us?

How would or could we know?


Identities – a photographic exhibition

A man is looking at a series of phtographs displayed outside in a courtyard

Photographs in the Quinzaine exhibition of Identities

A man is looking at a serie of photographs displayed outside on a courtyard wall

Photographs in the Quinzaine exhibition of Identities








Every year Peleyre Association at St Lanne organise a fortnight’s exhibition of photographs in three places – Maubourguet, Madiran and St Lanne. Every year the exhibition is wonderfully stimulating. The photographs can be beautiful, challenging and funny. This year’s theme of Identities is especially thought-provoking and also extraordinarily varied and this year both my daughter Tanvir Bush and myself have taken part. Here are some photos to convey something of the work on display.

Tanvir Bush Obfuscate

Red light suffused a phtograph of a woman's face obscured by a red transparent headdress with beads on it

Photograph by Tanvir Bush in her Obfuscate series

Tanvir is a writer, photographer and disability activist who teaches creative writing. She has an eye condition called Retinitis Pigmentosa which means that her sight is deteriorating. She took a photographic course with Photovoice, a charity that teaches visually impaired people to take photographs. Here is a poem by her on this subject and some of her photos in the courtyard of the Maison des Associations in Maubourguet.

“My eyes are sucked slowly by sickness,
Gobstoppers going from hue to blue
To black.
I want my sugar back.
My horizons are broken into jags of jigsaw;
My mountains have bite marks,
My seas are squeezed:
And all the time,
While the trees strike my face
And traffic is a game for cardsharps,
I am desperate to breathe.
Colour is oxygen and light becomes
My bread and wine.”


And as for my identity? Well – it’s Timeworn

12 photgraphs show close up images of wrinkled skin and folded fleash and worn clothes torn and laddered

Ruth Hartley – Timeworn


I was interested in this particular idea  that time and age erode identity and wear away the physical world. How are we seen and how do we see in the new and young digital world as we age? My photographs, taken on my smartphone, are part of the process of understanding my present self. Jean-Paul Sartre questioned the fixed nature of the roles we play in life. So do I. I also question the practice of youth who take selfies and do sexting. I question the idea of identity in a body that is worn out by time but also wears out its clothes. My photographs are printed onto a transparent fabric.

Time erodes me and wears away my

hair and reason. Sight and skin

all fall away – only my bones will remain


Phtographs of plant forms on a garden fence under trees

Photographs from the Quinzaine exhibition

A photgraph of African women walking along a beach is displayed next to a cafe terrace

Photographs from the Quinzaine exhibition outside a cafe







There are some remarkable photos at the Quinzaine about refugee migrants taken by Bruno Fert in the course of his work with Medicins sans Frontieres. Tripak has documented the people of his village.

As always, the Quinzaine involves a great deal of work and planning. Tanvir and I want to thank everyone involved especially Geraldine de Haan for her generous and patient support. Geraldine is a photographer who also has work at the exhibition.







2 Comments on “What is an identity? How do we identify ourselves?”

    1. Ruth Hartley

      Indeed – but some of us do not benefit society – unless its useful to have some dysfunctional society members to remind us how to behave.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.