For this project I decided that I wanted to produce an essay. Writing is something that I have begun to have a passion for. I am also not too sure on what I want to “be” when I leave university, so I combined by two favourite things together; writing and self-portrait photography. I’ve really enjoyed discovering the history behind self-portraiture and the artists that have thrived on it. It’s really made my passion for the self-portrait develop further.
As well as compiling this essay, I have also been creating book reviews monthly on random photo books that you may or may not of heard about, so if that sounds like your thing check it out!
Please Read PDF: An exploration and understanding of self
An exploration and understanding of self-portraiture within photography, and the need and importance for artists to create self-portraits
Chloe Parker Word count; 4,400
Bibliography- page 3-4
Chapter One- Introduction, page 5
Chapter Two- Portraiture and Self-Portraiture, page 5-6 Chapter Three- The First Self-Portrait, page 6 Chapter Four- Nadar, Page 7
Chapter Five- 19th century Self-Portraiture, page 7-8 Chapter Six- Nude Self-Portraiture, page 8-9 Chapter Seven- Masks and Personas, Page 9-10 Chapter Eight- Defaced 10-11
Chapter Nine- Authorship 11-12
Chapter Ten- Incidental Self-Portraits, page 12 Chapter Twelve- Conclusion, page 12-13
-Armishaw. H. (N.D) The Philosophy of Self-Portraiture in Contemporary Art [online] http://www.hollyarmishaw.com/the-philosophy-of-self-portraiture-in- contemporary-art—essay.html [visited on 18.03.15]
-Artnet Worldwide (2015) Arnulf Rainer Gallery [online] http://www.artnet.com/artists/arnulf-rainer/3 [visited on 23.03.15]
-Art Republic (N.D) Selfies and the History of Self-Portraiture [online] http://www.artrepublic.com/articles/475-selfies-and-the-history-of-self- portraiture.html [visited on 18.03.15]
-Baer-Gutierrez. F. (2013) 20 Quotes from Vincent van Gogh [online] http://denverartmuseum.org/article/staff-blogs/20-quotes-vincent-van-gogh [visited on 21.03.15]
-Brainy Quotes (N.D) Portrait Quotes [online] http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/keywords/portrait.html [visited on 21.03.15]
-Cumming. L. (2009) A Face to the World: On Self-Portraits [online] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/bookreviews/5893547/A-Face-to- the-World-On-Self-Portraits-by-Laura-Cumming-review.html [visited on 19.03.15]
-Eleven Colour Photographs (2015) Self Portrait As A Fountain [online] http://collection.whitney.org/object/5714 [visited on 23.03.15]
-Frieser. H. (2012) Self-Portraits [online] http://flakphoto.com/content/self- portraits-jen-davis-hannah-frieser#photo-26 [visited 19.03.15]
-Johanna Torell Photography (N.D) #2 [online] http://www.mimmijohannatorell.com/2 [visited on 23.03.15]
-Heaston. P. (2013) The History of Portraiture [online] http://www.craftsy.com/blog/2013/05/the-history-of-portraiture/ [visited on 18.03.15]
-Lautom Contemporary (2009) Ole John Aandal- Juvenilia [online] http://www.lautom.no/exhibitions/show/21 [visited on 23.03.15]
-Maloof. J. (2013) Self-Portraits Vivian Maier Gallery [online] http://www.vivianmaier.com/gallery/self-portraits/ [visited on 22.03.15] -Oxford University Press (2015) Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries [online] http://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/ [visited on 18.03.15]
-Photo Quotes (2014) Nadar [online] http://www.photoquotes.com/showquotes.aspx?id=281&name=Nadar [visited on 20.03.15]
-Regen Projects (2004) Jack Pierson [online] http://www.regenprojects.com/exhibitions/jack-pierson5/press-release [visited on 23.03.15]
-Smith. P. (2011) Portfolio- Mr Smith [online] http://www.paulmsmith.co.uk/portfolio/mr-smith/mr-smith.html [visited on 22.03.15]
-Spalding. F. (2014) The Self-Portrait: A Cultural History Review [online] http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/mar/27/self-portrait-culture- history-james-hall-review-profoundly-human [visited on 19.03.15]
-Spence. J. (N.D) Work Index- Beyond the Family Album [online] http://www.jospence.org/work_index.html [visited 19.03.15]
-Stonard. J. (2001) Nan Goldin- Artist Biography () [online] http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/nan-goldin-2649 [visited 22.03.15] -The Art Story (N.D) El Lissitzky [online] http://www.theartstory.org/artist- lissitzky-el.htm# [visited on 24.03.15]
-The Fabulous Noble Team (N.D) A Breif History of Portraiture [online] https://www.fabulousnoble.com/news/history_of_portraiture [visited 18.03.15] -The Imogen Cunningham Trust (N.D) Self Portrait Archive [online] http://www.imogencunningham.com/page.php?page=archive&index=16&menu =self [visited on 21.03.15]
-The J. Paul Getty Museum (N.D.) [Self-Portrait] [online] http://www.getty.edu/art/collection/objects/39016/nadar-gaspard-felix- tournachon-self-portrait-french-about-1855/ [visited on 20.03.15]
-The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation (N.D) Self-Portrait Gallery [online] http://www.mapplethorpe.org/portfolios/self-portraits/ [visited on 23.03.15] -The Tate (N.D) Artist Essay- Francesca Woodman [online] http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/francesca-woodman-10512 [visited on 21.03.15]
-The Warhol (N.D) Icon Portraits [online] http://www.warhol.org/education/resourceslessons/Icon-Portraits/ [visited on 20.03.15]
-Whitty (2013) Selfie Quotes [online] http://www.wittyprofiles.com/quotes/selfies/5 [visited on 24.03.15]
-Alder. R. Criado. V. Huneycutt. B. (2007) The Border Film Project: Migrant and Minutemen Photos from the U.S Mexico Border. 1st edition. USA: Harry N. Arbrams Inc.
-Angier. R. (2007) Train Your Gaze: A Practical and Theoretical Introduction to Portrait Photography. 1st edition. Switzerland: North America: New York: England: Ava Publishing
-Badger. G. (2010) The Genius of Photography. 1st edition. London: Quadrillie Publishing
-Billeter. E. Mayou. R. (1985) Self-Portrait in the Age of Photography: Photographers Reflecting Their Own Image. 1st edition. Bern: Benteli Verlag -Bright. S. (2010) Auto Focus: The Self-Portrait in Contemporary Photography. 1st edition. United Kingdom: Thames and Hudson
-Ewing. W. (1994) The Body: Photoworks of the Human Form, Number 6. 1st edition. United Kingdom: Thames and Hudson
-Maloof. J. Maier. V. (2013) Vivian Maier: Self Portraits. 1st edition. New York: Power House Books
-Matthews. O. (1973) Early Photographs and Early Photographers: A Survey in Dictionary Form. 1st edition. United Kingdom: Reedminster Publications
-Warner Marien. M. (2012) 100 Ideas that Changed Photography. 1st edition. London: Laurence King
“I leave you my portrait so that you will have my presence all the days and nights that I am away from you”
As a passionate self-portrait lover and photographer, I am going to explore the history behind the self-portrait, the vast artists who add to this archive and to discover the reasons and feelings we have towards these images when looking at the artists work. But I specifically want to study why artists have thrived on taking photographs of themselves, why there is a need or importance with taking self-portraits and if they are creating the images for themselves or for us.
“It is difficult to know oneself, but it isn’t easy to paint oneself either” Vincent van Gogh
Definition of a portrait1
-A painting, drawing, photograph, or engraving of a person, especially one depicting only the face or head and shoulder
-A representation or impression of someone
To understand a self-portrait, we must first understand the portrait. Portraits have been with us since the earliest times within our history, from ancient Egyptians to ancient Greeks to the romans, “It appears that, up until 1490, the production of self-portraits remained modest and spasmodic2”. The sitters within these drawings, paintings and sculptures were people who had power, wealth and “deemed important enough to be honoured3”. However, the turn of the Renaissance, particularly within Europe, portraiture turned into showing sitters who had royalty or religious power. By the end of the Renaissance period, the Italians showed a huge interested with the common man. As we move into the 1800’s we have the Pre-Raphaelites whilst also having other artists exploring social issues such as the industrial revolution, and by the 19th century we have a huge art movement of cubism, realism and impressionism. This is the particular era where we see artists start to have a huge fascination with self-portraiture and creating raw and vulnerable yet very expressive portraits; some include Vincent Van Gogh and Pablo Picasso. The 20th century shows artists, like Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, having a fascination with celebrities, and that takes us to the present day where through portraits we show how contemporary media defines us and affects the art world.
Definition of a self-portrait
-A pictorial or literary portrait of oneself, created by oneself4
1 Definitions taken from Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary
2 Quote taken from http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/mar/27/self- portrait-culture-history-james-hall-review-profoundly-human
3 Quote taken from http://www.craftsy.com/blog/2013/05/the-history-of- portraiture/
4 Definition taken from http://www.thefreedictionary.com/self-portrait
Self-portraits are universally seen as not only the artist expressing their feelings and emotions, but also how the artist sees himself or herself. Today we have something called ‘reflexive conditional concept5’, basically meaning that there is no true self, and this real defining of the artist and the subject, even though they are the same person. The contemporary viewer is seen to have a responsibility to interpret the artist within the image, almost like “Self-analysis”. Self-portraiture has particularly thrived since post modernism, specifically in the last fifteen years.
After Louis Daguerre’s incredible success of fixing an image taken by a camera in 1839, photographic portrait studios popped up everywhere in Europe and then in America.
At first, due to people not understanding the concept of photography and mistaking it for something like “magic”, the main subjects were ordinary people such as soldiers, shopkeepers and children. Then the famous wanted their faces to be fixed in time too. As we get to the 1860’s period, we see that the camera then turns to people with medical conditions and informalities as well as people that lived outside of Europe.
However, the first self-portraits were not made for the intention of which they are today. They were images the photographer had taken to test lighting, the focus or/and the chemicals. Even today fashion photographers take Polaroid’s before shoots to check the lighting.
“There is, in my opinion, only one conclusion that may be drawn from the idea that the self is not given to us: we must create ourselves as works of art” Michel Foucault
One of the first self-portraits taken was by Hippolyte Bayard in 1840. It is a set three image and named ‘Self-portrait as a Drowned Man’. This was not only ahead of its time because it was specifically made as a self-portrait, but also because it was completely different to Daguerreotypes, for two main reasons. 6
A theory behind these three sets of images is that Bayard had enough of Louis Daguerre being the man known for the invention of photography. He shows his frustration through his images whilst using the word ‘Drowned’ to visualise his emotions and feelings about his “opponent”. Bayard is also said to be emphasising the point that Daguerre’s long exposure times were completely outrageous and seemed to have bored Bayard to sleep, or even worse death! In one way Bayard had lost the title of being known for the creator of photography, but on the other hand he became the inventor of the self-portrait.
Furthermore, this image is the first photograph to directly show strong personal emotions. He’s showing how he’s fed up of the world thinking Daguerre is the true inventor of photography and we really do see this. It also shows the theatrical staging of the self that can be seen within the 20th century.
5 Discussed in Auto Focus by Susan Bright
6 Firstly the image wasn’t as crisp and defined, therefore the images becomes slightly more abstract in a way compared to the clean-cut daguerreotypes previously taken. Secondly Bayard used a paper negative, this means that he can make multiple copies of the same one image.
“The portrait I do best is of the person I know best” Nadar
Towards the latter half of the 19th century, we then see two different styles of self-portraits begin to appear. The first is artists represented as very wealthy, educated and knowledgeable men. The second are very over the top, elaborate characters, often in costume. One of these being Nadar.
The second type of images produced show an interested in travelling and romanticism but to us today they show racism as they show a strong, but harmless, sorting of people into very specific categories. Nadar used Self- portraiture to “experiment with poses and gestures”, and most importantly he shows the viewer an image of a man that he wanted to be, wise, romantic and a very educated artist.
“I suspect it is for ones self-interest that one looks at one’s surroundings and one’s self”
The mid 20th century turned self-portraiture from the photographer being wealthy and intelligent to something that was considered more truthful. We see a ray of honesty on a personal level that is a complete contrast to what has been happening within this form of photography.
Vivian Maier took over 100,000 negatives and slides, which were only discovered in her home after she had died. The self-portraits she left behind give us some insight into the person she actually was and not the stories she told to people. These are mainly back and white reflections or shadows of Maier, which can be argued aren’t showing the viewer who she truly is, but for me I see the closeness Maier likes to keep. This privacy she is destine to hold on to, but also the trust she has with the camera is visible in the images that were never meant to be seen. We always have to dig deeper into the image to see who Maier really is, and that’s how the few people that did know her say how she really was.
This way of using reflection and mirrors was a trending theme with self- portraits during this time. We can also see it in the work by Lee Friedlander. The images that he takes in the late 1960’s are often taken with him being in shadows and another person that is unknown also in the image. This becomes Friedlander’s Mask too as he takes on the persona of the person involved as well, almost like a double self-portrait. As viewers we think less about him and this being one single portrait, and we think more about the relationship between the two people and the situation. We also think more about his role as an artist and the ‘mask’ that this creates within society, and the instincts and what he looks for as an artist.
Although, as we move two decades later, we then see the complete opposite within self-portraiture. Nan Goldin has always been honest about showing herself and her life situations in front of the lens. We see her through her teenage years right through to her long-term domestic abuse relationship. We have to ask ourselves if Goldin didn’t have this opportunity to take these images and almost talk to her camera in a way, would she have gotten through
the experiences7 that she did? Was her self-portraiture a way of dealing with this and if that is the case, are we the audience or is she, keeping these images to remind herself in a self-reflective way, of how much stronger she has become?
“The body is the only direct way through which I can know society and society comes to know me. The body is proof of identity. The body is language” Zhang Huan
Nude photography is always a striking and beautiful form of photography, but when we learn as viewers that it is the artists themselves within the images, does it change our opinions and thoughts?
The interest to know our bodies and who we are can be seen by many photographers. One of these is Thomas Florschuetz, who uses extreme close-ups of his body as well as repetition, so that they almost have an abstract way to them as they become virtually unrecognisable. To me, his work shows a man who’s exploring a body that doesn’t seem to be his in a way. As a viewer, Florschuetz’s images make me want to explore who we are and what is our personal identity that makes us unique.
Similar to Florschuetz in photographic appearance is John Coplans, whose images that he produces are incredibly powerful photographs. Rather than exploring the concepts of emotions and feelings, he seems to change self- portraiture into physical appearances. As a contemporary viewer I see before me a man of age, who has done a few things within his life and someone who is very open with being a normal, ordinary man. His close-up images of his scars from stiches, his grotesque toenails and his unexpected lines everywhere on his feet really tell us something about the artists; his appearances and his experiences. There seems to be nothing beautiful or gentle about his body that we have seen from photographers within the previous self-portraits, and nor is he exploring the comparison of identity and social or psychological theories. Coplans is simply showing us his body in a completely open and honest way, ‘His self-Portraits begin and end with a solid surface8’.
Francesca Woodman also explores the ideas of gender and identity within her self-portraits. However, Woodman does this by showing how vulnerable she is within society, often by being naked. The locations that she shoots in are frequently torn down and disregarded buildings, showing her instability. We see her mind working in the crazy way she feels, as she is a blur. She perceives someone who is lost within this universe and needs a comforting arm put round her. The images she presents to the viewer are as moving as they distressing, and we feel like we have a duty to comfort her by trying to understand Woodman.
A very similar photographer to Coplans is Jemima Stehli, who also chooses to throw the viewer into an awkward and perhaps uncomfortable position. Stehli uses performance art within her photographic shoot by stripping in front of a series of men and they are told to take the image as soon as they begin to feel uncomfortable. So sometimes Stehli has all of her clothes on and sometimes she is completely naked. So how is this still considered to be a self- portrait? Stehli is not physically the one pressing the shutter release, but she is
7 Image being talked about is ‘Nan one month after being battered’, 1984 8 Taken from Train Your Gaze, Roswell Angier.
indeed the creator, and the photographer is physically in the image herself. We also see the self-portrait from the man, and we can really read his body language and the issues he faces with power and control. They could be referred to as “double self-portraits”.
Arno Rafael Minkkinen creates a self-portrait that shows himself as a piece of art. Similar to the artists we’ve looked at such as John Coplans and Thomas Florschuetz; Minkkinen also explores his body, looking for details, lines and shapes, but in a very particular artistic position. He explores the beauty that is rarely seen in this way with this type of sitter, and shows us the connection with man and nature. Minkkinen also explores art itself, the sitter, “the artist”, has become the artwork himself.
Similarly, Bruce Nauman’s image, ‘Self-Portrait as a Fountain’, also shows the artist become the art himself. Nauman shoots out water through his lips in a very dramatic yet humorous way. However, rather than questioning the relationship between nature and man, Nauman focuses more on the role of the artist and the fact we rarely see the creator of the pieces that we get enjoyment from. When talking about his work, Nauman said, ‘The true artist is an amazing luminous fountain’, making the viewer thinks about the definitions and concepts of what art and the artist actually is.
Another photographer who uses their body as an art form is contemporary artist, Sam Taylor-Johnson. We see in the series, ‘Escape, Artist’ and also, ‘Suspended’, that her body is used as prop to demonstrate her emotions. As viewers we don’t necessarily look at her body telling us a specific meaning, but actually how it presented, for example the twisted shapes. However, she has also produced images of strength and power within the photograph, ‘Self-Portrait in a Single Breasted Suit with a Hare’. This is very similar to Nadar and how he would present himself. It also goes against our natural instincts when we think of Cancer, but here the artist has become resilient and tough, and we see that fragile sitter from the first two series disappear.
“I didn’t think of what I was doing as political. To me it was a way to make the best out of what I liked to do privately, which was to dress up”
The idea of creating a mask or different personality dates back to ancient Rome, where they would wear physical masks to disuse themselves. They really believed in this and by wearing a mask, they created a new identity, hence where the word ‘Persona’ comes from.
Cindy Sherman is a classic example of creating masks, ‘she does not show herself in various situations, but always appears as another person, although there is no suggestion of disguise9’. Her work interpretations the lives of women though-out the 1950’s and 60’s, and she is so rarely seen as her self, for example she wasn’t recognised at her own exhibition opening. However, does this affect the viewer’s trust or belief that this is a self-portrait, or even further, is this a self-portrait? This visage that Sherman wears is not just her interpretation of these stereotypes of women, its much more. It’s telling us about her thoughts,
9 Self-Portrait In The Age Of Photography, Erika Billeter and Roger Marcel Mayou 9
feelings and opinions on power, women and femininity. Robert Mapplethorpe also explores gender and identity by getting into character. He regularly portrays a rebel boy, a gorgeous woman or an evil villain, and explores all these different types within society.
Similar to Nadar, Imgoen Cunnigham shows herself being educated, wise and intelligent but in a more conservative way compared to Sherman. Within the images taken in 1932, 1933 and 1974, we see her soft but inquisitive eyes peering through her circular glasses. We see the aged effect upon her face showing she’s had fulfilling life. We see her portray a woman that looks as if she will be remembered for years to come with honour.
The previous self-portraits we have looked are mainly took by men, and portraiture itself has been male dominate, but self-portraiture has given women the chance and a voice to express their feelings on society, identity and the woman. It has been a visual way for women to show their thoughts and feelings on femininity. We see the obedient housewife that her mother was perhaps, and we see that glamour’s, beautiful film star, and we want more than that. As a female viewer, I erg for Sherman to show me images of women who are educated and powerful, and for the image to not just focus on their looks or the traditional “woman’s role”. But looking at Sherman’s images more in depth and we can begin to see a part of Sherman’s feelings towards herself, her insecurities and the comfort, control and strength she feels with being a different person.
How does this ‘persona’ and mask change when photographers interpret celebrities? Andy Warhol is a key example of this with his paintings of how he see’s the well known, but more specifically to photography is the work of Paul M Smith. The series ‘Mr Smith’ is images of the photographers face combined with men he idolises. Similar to Sherman, Smith plays around with the idea of gender and more specifically alpha male identity, ‘In his use of the self-portrait he has become an anonymous figure, a character both embodying and satirizing ‘the male’’. His self is not the focus of the image, but his opinions are. However, this does raise discussion surrounding our ideology on identity.
“The image is not a painting, but a structure around which we must circle, looking at it from all sides, peering down from above, investigating from below” El Lissitzky
We have so far looked at the artist being physically in the frame, but what if they are not within the image, does this change it being a self-portrait?
Jo Spence’s body of work, ‘Beyond the Family Album’, looks at forty years of her life. Some of these images were never intended to be apart of a photo book, and we constantly see how her life changes in years, “I began to reverse the process of the way I had been constructed as a woman by deconstructing myself visually in an attempt to identify the process by which I had been ‘put together’’. This is not a piece exploring her current self, but the different “selves” she’s gained and lost in her previous years that have made her into the person she is now.
We also have artists who aren’t in their image at all, such as Johanna Torell. She regularly photographs the bed she’s been sleeping in. We can see the strong creases in the sheets, the gentle ripples and the shadows that fall across the bed. Even though this hasn’t got the photographer within the frame, we can
still understand this is a self-portrait due to us having an understanding of the ways Torell has slept and the actual sheets she chooses, all little clues and hints describing her as person. Roswell Angier uses the term ‘Defaced’, when describing these self-portraits that don’t have a sitter within them, and this goes against our instincts. These aren’t obvious identity pointers; they are subconscious and make the viewer think more in depth about who the mystery artist actually is.
Another photographer that completely is different in his concepts to what we have previously been looking into is Jack Pierson, who created a photo book showing fifteen “self-portraits”. These portraits were not actually him, but other men, and Pierson explored the ideas of desire. Pierson names these images self- portraits as he explores himself and creates this “autobiography”. He ‘conceals as much as he reveals’.
Furthermore, the Bauhaus movement brought together completely new and radical art concepts. The use of layering on El Lissitzky’s photomontage, ‘The Constructor’, is a very different way of showing thoughts and identity compared to the others we have previously seen. He’s showing his intelligence as well as the importance of this new art wave and the feelings he has towards photography; investigating its artistic and free approach compared to the scientific way it is also seen. The precision of the shapes and the fact they all line up together represents the aesthetic look of the typical Bauhaus work. Through the various layers upon layers, we see his eye piercing through his wise hand that is balancing a compass, and we consider him to be of high intelligence, similar to Nadar.
“The self-portrait is an investigation as well as a representation of identity” Mary Warner Marien
There has been big dispute in the photography community for deciding what makes a self-portrait a self-portrait. Is it the photographer actually pressing the shutter release themselves, or does it matter if the photographer curating the whole frame and concept but does not press the shutter release themselves.
If we take Sherin Neshat’s series of images, ‘Women of Allah’, she directed the concept and production of the images taken. However, most importantly she did not press the shutter release. Does this affect how we, as a viewer, see the images? I strongly believe not. The concept behind Neshat’s work from the authors of Train Your Gaze is very relevant. They say that artist’s do this define themselves as a subject and as an artist, and they create some distance between the two personas. Arnulf Rainer also uses post-manipulations on his self- portraiture to demonstrate his thoughts and opinions in a more direct way. The series ‘Face Farce’, show him with humorous facial expressions but there’s dramatic, angry looking brush marks coving his presents and making harder for the viewer to see his actual body and face.
Similarly to Neshat, Gavin Turk, who is a contemporary British artist, did not take the image, ‘Portrait of Something that I’ll Never Really See’. Once it was exhibited in a London museum it was credited to his assistant for taking the image, but ‘Turk conceptualized and authored the self-portrait’. On one hand we have two artists that have planned and set-up for their self-portrait, but on the other hand they both did not take the actual image. Therefore we need to
consider if this affects the image begin a self-portrait. It may possibly influence the image, particularly in terms of the artist or “model” feeling like they are at a specific time and have the right feelings when they want to take the image. We have to question the time when a self-portrait becomes an artist’s portrait.
Furthermore, exploring the idea that ‘if we are not taking the image, then it cannot be a self-portrait’, photo booths need to be taken into consideration. The work by Tomoko Sawada is very relevant. She takes images of herself within photo booths and plays with the concepts of identity. Even though these images show her as different personas with her dressed up in different styles of clothes and hair she has picked for the shoot. But, as a viewer, I still see her and an element of honesty. The fact that Sawada has taken the series of images in a photo booth means she has nowhere to hide, there are restrictions by being in a lit up and compacted place, and it’s a somewhere in which we don’t, as viewers, tend to feel comfortable. Once again questioning the importance of needing an “operator” for it to be a self-portrait.
We also have ‘The Border Film Project’, which was set up by three curators who gave disposable cameras to vulnerable people. These included illegal immigrants and people who had been affected by natural and man-made disasters. These self-portraits show the viewer directly the problems these people battle with constantly. But we have to ask ourselves is it the people who curated this project, or is the people who actually took the images, the owners of the self-portraits?
“How many selfies do I need to have on my computer to qualify for having a “problem”?”
Today we take hundreds of self-portraits, and the Oxford dictionary chose “selfie” as the word of 2013. However, we have to decide if these are self- portraits or just physical images that are “Incidental portraits”. We still see some honesty of ourselves, although these images are based on how we look that day or a place we have visited. We may consider them less meaningless and less conceptual constructed compared to the images taken by the aritsts we have so far explored, but we need to realise that these are self-portraits still, and an important part of the self-portraiture history as it is the first time we see where everyone with a phone or camera and has the opportunity to create hundreds self-portraits.
One artist thriving on this is Ole John Aandal, and his series ‘Juvenilia’. These are a series of edited “selfies” that he has found off the internet and he gives them more of a purpose and meaning, ‘Juvenilia is the voice of teenagers in a new media world where everybody is an artist and everything you can imagine is real’. Aandal makes the viewer think more differently about these images we see everyday that flood our screens, and we begin to think of them in more of a thoughtful way and give them more importance.
So my final thoughts towards self-portraiture are that there are three reoccurring themes present within every image that we have explored. The first is honesty. The artist is exposed to the lens, and no matter how many masks they are wearing; we still see a part of them that they cannot hide. The second is the
artist exploring identity. All of the photographers and artists have shown a fascination and curiousness towards knowing more about themselves and how that relate within society. We see an exploration of self-analysis and discovery of who they are. The final theme present is the artist’s thoughts, feelings and opinions. Every image shows an intrigue into a subject matter that affects the artist, whether it be a fascination into what is art or something more serious like a mental illness affecting them.
I believe that self-portraiture is one of the most important forms of photography, as we need to self-express ourselves, and let our feelings flood the viewer’s eyes. After creating this essay I have discovered that the photographer does not make these images just for the viewer, but they create these photographs for themselves as well, almost like a diary. The danger of the “Selfie” affecting the artist’s self-portraiture, I believe, will not happen. I think it will increase people’s self-expression but the self-portrait will be around for thousands, if not millions, of years to come.
‘A self-portrait is not a commissioned work10’
10 Taken from ‘Self-Portraiture in the Age of Photography’