As someone not unskilled at picking up las chicas en la calle, I appreciated the direct way in which Melbourne photographer Tommy Backus (@writes_with_light) approached me in Frankston and asked if he could take my photograph.
I was surprised, moreover, at what his camera saw.
Are you surprised at how others see you? I confess I often am. To see yourself in a photograph is like seeing yourself reflected in a mirror which is angled away from you: you catch an unexpected vision of yourself—side-on, as it were.
I didn’t altogether recognize the dapper gloved gent staring back at me from Tommy’s photographs with such steely confidence. Was this really the vision that others had of me as I took my dreamy flâneries down Melbourne’s laneways?
The hard-eyed, no-nonsense gent in these photographs looked more like a dandy Don Draper than Dean Kyte.
As I studied the stranger in the photographs, I was reminded of something which a girl had said to me once. I picked her up in Chinatown, approaching her with the same sort of humble directness with which Tommy had approached me in the Shannon street mall.
It was our second rendez-vous. As we departed the Treasury Gardens and wended our way down the Paris end of Collins street, she told me of some of the manipulative and socially unintelligent manœuvres which other men had pulled on her in the past. I violently expressed my disgust with what I considered to be ‘weak’ behaviours because (as I had learned to my cost) they are ultimately unnecessary.
She gave a kind of ‘verbal shrug’, as if to say, ‘But of course!’ It was natural, to her mind, that I should regard such behaviours as weak and unnecessary.
‘You are a confident man,’ she told me, quite matter-of-factly, as though the intelligence was already well-known to me and she was not, in fact, giving me a revelatory clue to the mystery (which always preoccupies me) of who the hell I am.
I was as surprised by that observation of myself by another as I was looking at this confident gentleman I hardly recognized as me in Tommy’s photographs. I didn’t ‘feel’ especially confident. Perhaps truly confident men never do, because they never think about it.
In Daygame, we used to say that confidence was nothing more than ‘situational competence’: you gain competence (and thus confidence) as a man by consistently throwing yourself into situations where you are not yet confident (such as approaching women in the street) and mastering that domain until it enters into your economy of habits as an ‘unconscious competency’.
The truly confident man is, I think, as much a man of thought as of action. To act decisively, with confidence, demands that we first of all consider the complexity of problems at a very deep level. This takes time and does not preclude the potential for self-doubt: confidence is not something you ‘have’ even when you are competent in a given situation; it is a reserve you call upon to inspire action.
Certainly I did not ‘feel’ especially confident when I picked up the girl who alerted me to my innate confidence. I had no intimation of what would transpire between us in a very few hours’ time, and I almost let her walk past before the reserve of unconscious competence commanded me to approach.
Indeed, I sensed a similar ‘summoning of courage’ in Tommy when he stopped me in Frankston, which made me appreciate his direct yet humble approach. If you want to see Melbourne like a local, I recommend that you take a look at other of his portraits of Melburnians on Instagram.