It’s all about me, me and me…

Russell Squires, self-portrait 2012

Russell Squires, self-portrait 2012

Self-portraiture is something one should never get involved in, since it is wrong to lie even though one endeavors to tell the truth. – Ingmar Bergman

This post continues on the lines from my previous piece about the power & control relationship between photographer and model; that questioned the photographers’ hesitation of being in front of the camera. So with self-portraiture, you guessed it, it’s all about me, me and me. Well with the inclusion of some other points and artists on this subject.

I thought it prudent to put my money where my mouth is and ‘bare all’ so to speak with the title image. This however was not always easy, as typically a few years ago I detested my picture being taken; if it happened, I usually pulled them to bits making harsh negative comments on my physical attributes. Any given situation I always questioned peoples motive for wanting to take my picture; I’m not that good looking and I’m about as wooden as a Gandolfi, so why would they?

Gradually when I started facing someone’s camera I began questioning the power balance of giving them that control over me. It was not the direct act of them controlling me, as the power play can be quite intoxicating, it was only that I wanted it to be all about me! I became selfish, wanting to show off and become the star and the only way I was going to achieve that was to be both behind and in front of the camera. Luckily, cable releases, IR triggers and an abundance of patience could easily solve this paradoxical line of thinking.

So please see the image of myself taken in 2012 that was my loosing* entry into a photographic portrait competition. When this image was taken it was a poignant moment for me as I had gone through a life changing weight loss mission in which I shed 9 stone over a five year period. The act of photographing myself was to get visual proof to reflect upon and celebrate this achievement. Also I wanted to show off what can be done with hard work and a logical approach to maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

In total contrast I am pulled towards the honesty, strength and integrity of Haley Morris-Cafiero’s work in which she examines societies reaction to her size in quite a familiar tone we all may have expressed at some point. Love it…

*See fellow OCA Photography Tutor Sharon Boothroyd’s post on losing in a portrait competition in which there are some great points and insightful truths.

On a side note, it is interesting how the act and in some ways the associated artefacts that are present in artists self-portraits; from painters depicting themselves in front of a canvas with an easel to photographers taking a picture perhaps in front of a mirror with their camera as an extension of themselves. Is this a requirement to prove to the viewer who they are and what they do?

For example:

Matisse

Goya

Maier

Feininger

I ask now, why produce a self-portrait; is it to construct another identity in which to provide a sense of externalisation. Or do we create these images to see a perceived idealised version or ourselves? With no uncertainty, one psychological characteristic that goes hand-in hand within all self-portraiture is that of narcissism. Maybe it is this that drives us to show off and attempt to visualise an outward appearance that is not our own. Could the very conscious act of self-portraiture create a falsehood through causality, inherently crafting these lies that we cannot see through our own familiar figures?

To be concluded in ‘The Selfie’

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9 comments for “It’s all about me, me and me…

  1. 24 October 2013 at 1:52 pm

    Interesting post Russell, with hard questions to ponder… answers I don’t have, but questions which connect very well to thoughts around taking my own self portraits too (whether revealing or not), and questioning the photographs, the truth of appearance and feelings this and other questions bring forward…
    Catherine once commented on a self portrait I made with the words, I think it was a quote… ‘I am a camera, I am my camera…’.
    This is not an answer of any sorts, but it adds to the questions around medium, and that through which we / I choose to see ourselves / myself I guess…
    Dewald

  2. 24 October 2013 at 3:26 pm

    I’ve realised recently that, whilst I’m very interested in looking at portraits, I’m not that interested in taking them and have only done one self-portrait (the usual one of me in a mirror). I admire your bravery in taking the self-portrait – did it convince you of how well you’d done? Maybe there should be an Exhibition called “Not the Taylor Wessing Show”.

    Hayler Morris-Cafiero’s work is interesting. the almost whimsical look of it is actually driving home quite a strong message I think. It doesn’t say whether she actually made these photographs herself by remote release or ‘directed’ someone else in the taking.

    Actually, after a Thames Valley Group Workshop recently where we discussed portraiture (with Sharon in attendance) I’ve been pondering on this issue and thinking that maybe I actually like the idea of taking photographs of someone to their direction and then comparing this with ones I take. I’ve got a feeling that entering into this in that way might remove some of my felt inhibitions. It would be more like a joint collaboration.

    The other aspect, of course, is, given that any photograph reveals the photographer, maybe every portrait of someone else is one’s own self-portrait. I’m thinking of that fascinating project by Mischa Henner where he layered multiple portraits taken by various well-known photographers and revealed that many of them always chose people with similar facial characteristics.

    • 25 October 2013 at 10:02 pm

      Hi Catherine,

      Thanks for the comments, it did convince me to a point on how well I had done, yet it served to cast new doubts and anxiety about my body image and attaining societies perceived perfection. This last year though I have come to the conclusion, that even though I will not have the stereotypical masculine look of broad shoulders, strong arms and a tight midsection I am ecstatic with my wellbeing and level of fitness that I never had.

      I love the idea ‘Not The Taylor Wessing’ show, perhaps this should happen, all the entries that were not selected to be exhibited elsewhere.

      Collaborative portrait projects can be very fruitful, I did a set some years back with a couple of Aikido masters which was an interesting experience.

      • 26 October 2013 at 3:56 pm

        Hi Russell,

        These stereotypical ideals are so false and we end up with a tiny minority of people ‘made famous’ and everyone else feeling inferior. Well-being and feeling fit are much more important. You might even end up going in for Ironman events as Keith does.

        I’ve looked at one of your Akido master portraits on your website. Did you write about it on your blog if so I’ll look in the archives? Re collaboration – I’ve been a guinea pig for Keith in one of his projects which has been very interesting. I just need to pluck up courage now to ask some friends to pose for me.

        Pleased you like the idea of the ‘Not the Taylor Wessing Show’. It could be an online Exhibition or even a pop-up Exhibition.

  3. 24 October 2013 at 4:21 pm

    Thanks for sharing your article and work with us Russell. It is the honesty and openness of the self portrait that I am drawn to. The self analysis of the human condition. In my studies I keep coming back to it realizing I need to understand myself before I can move forward.

  4. 24 October 2013 at 5:49 pm

    I think there are a whole bunch of reasons why people make self portraits ranging from wishing to document their lives to simply using oneself as a readily available model and I agree that narcissism must play a part.

    I made a series of self portraits to try to document what it felt like to train for a major endurance sports event. Apart from photography my main hobby is long distance triathlon racing. To be honest I think I decided on self portraits for purely practical reasons – I was always available to have my portrait made when I returned from a training workout…My idea was to try to catch myself at moments when I was distracted and too tired to pose.

    The portraits are far from flattering so if my intent was narcissistic I failed miserably! (Or perhaps this is just me consoling myself by telling myself that I really do look better than I appear in these photos)…. you can see the photos which I pulled together into a video here:

    • Graeme Hoose
      24 October 2013 at 11:32 pm

      Keith. I was going to put your series forward as a counter point to the narcissistic meme for the same reason . As they were more of a “journal”- istic nature than a studied series of posed portraits.

    • 25 October 2013 at 10:17 pm

      Hi Keith,

      I was forwarded your project ‘Disarming The Pose’ and found it to be very engaging and wonderful to read, thank you. Your line of questions in your ‘conclusions and key learning points’ resonated well with me. Theres is a historical element that arose with me lately in which I was fascinated with a picture shot about 80 years ago of some ‘Scouts’, the facial expressions and physical attributes of the young men did not seem at all familiar with todays youth. I wonder why this is…?

      Regarding narcissism, I believe there must be a small element present that may have come through during the editing stage. Even though you find them unflattering, did you at any point choose one particular image over another through instinctual reasons other than editing them down through technical aspects? The images by the way are great, loved them.

      • 26 October 2013 at 9:04 am

        Thanks for the kind remarks Russell. Interesting questions.

        I think that one of the key differences between portraits from 80 years ago and portraits of similar subjects today has to do with our familiarity today with the photographic medium. We have all be photographed so many times and have seen thousands of portraits of others (celebrities, ads and so on) so that in effect we have been taught how to ‘pose’. 80 years ago I don’t think this was the case and so portraits from back then seem much less contrived – at least I think so, although some might argue that the expressions in these old portraits are very rigid. The process of making the photographs was also much slower back then which forced the sitter to remain still, and quiet. This may well result in a greater degree of introspection by the subject (as opposed to an outward theatrical display which shouts out “this is how I want people to see me”). This is why these days I personally prefer to make portraits with a 4×5 view camera. It slows things down. Compare these two portraits and see what you think. The first is with a digital camera:

        http://www.flickr.com/photos/66220671@N02/9675577736/

        and the second with a 4×5:

        http://www.flickr.com/photos/66220671@N02/9689557550/

        On the self portraits, yes there was a degree of editing going on in the background. I made 4/5 images at each session and did select from these. I wondered whether I should just take the first one in all cases but with self portraiture one has to contend with ‘accidents’ – the shutter releases on the timer when the subject (me) is looking away, the image was not pin sharp on the face and so on. To be honest I could not tell you exactly what my criterion for selection was, but I am pretty sure it was not to choose the one in which I looked the best….you can see that in some of the images! In a way I think it was about choosing an image which reflected my mood at the time – I edited the images very soon after the shoot. The portraits were all made with a Hasselblad 80mm lens and a digital back, so I had instant feedback. Having made my selection at the time I did not re-edit later.

        Interesting post Russell and great portrait by the way….very brave but I can imagine for you also very satisfying for you as I suspect that before your fitness campaign you might not have considered such a portrait.

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