The Only Thing You Can Count On Is Your Family uses the metaphor of glass in a manner of confrontation. Here is a dialogue with (homo)sexuality, homophobia and identity, especially through confrontation with the conceptual understanding of their shifting boundaries.
Salgado places his figure in the metaphorical space of the mirror to reflect an image of the Other or monstrous. By transforming from a white to black man, he evokes long-drawn discussion of racial divide. He chooses to become the religious Other when he removes the cross of Christianity from his body. As he unclothes to reveal a slender frame, shaves his head and all facial hair including his eyebrows, he moves more delicately into territory that is past heterosexuality. As he reads the contents of personal communication with his family, the artist removes every evidence that is identifiable and presumed about him in the Euro-centric world: white, christian and heterosexual. The narrative is very personal, and before our eyes, he transforms from what is socially and familially acceptable to what is not, what is questionable, alienated, disapproved and perhaps despised by some.
It is said that without reflection, gaze and shadow, we would have little understanding of ourselves as a whole entity. A child at six months lacks coordination and is unable to fully comprehend what goes where and how one part of its body fits into the other. Yet it is able to recognize itself in the mirror. This synthesis of a whole image delights the child, at the same time producing a sense of contrast with its seemingly fragmented body. From the ensuing tension begins the construction of the Ego and consequently, projections (and subjugations) of identity-related biases. The mirror phase was defined by the psychoanalyst Jaques Lacan in 1936. He proposed that Ego is the product of a fundamental misunderstanding, a false recognition, which situates the agency of the ego in a fictional direction. The child becomes alienated from itself before any sort of social determination can take place. In other words, the mirror stage introduces the baby into an imaginary order. While this idea has been criticized widely because for the infant to recognize itself in the mirror, it must already have a sense of self underway, Lacan's concept finds place in literary critique : the mirror separates us from our selves; In order to recognize myself, I have to be separate from my self. Modern media too, utilizes this infantile fascination with the reflected image, by showing us pictures into which we are invited to project ourselves.
Salgado uses our familiarity of being implicated in such projections well. He sets up an intimate cinematic space - not voyeuristic but point-blank - as if a mini-stage has been emptied of everything but his private moment. We are privy to his actions. He sets up the simple unquestioned device of a mirror for us we watch him undergo changes in physical appearance. As we listen to his words and watch, we comprehend everything he is doing step by step, as it is reflected accurately in the mirror. Yet, by the end, in the style of the impending growth of a horror film (where a bathroom mirror sucks the person into a distant land), we are returned with an image that is so far removed from the subject. We are now confronted with "the person who is not".
Along with a stark visual comes the revelation that these differences are in (social) perception. And that the unfamiliar alien, the misunderstood and distasteful Other is but one of two sides of the same coin, the coin being the self. Through "intimate and provocative portrayals,... clandestine moments for public reception", Salgado hopes that "the viewer considers the private but wholly real social politics of prejudice, sexuality, and violence."