Final Major Project: Self-Portraiture
“I think that’s why so many portraits work when they’re difficult: we believe we’re presenting ourselves one way, but the camera always reveals something more vulnerable, despite our best efforts.”
– Katy Grannan (Denes, 2005)
A tradition of photographers taking self-portraits is as old as the medium of photography itself. I, like many, do not like to have my photograph taken. Yet having your photograph taken in this age of the digital camera and iPhones, is part of everyday life.
I have taken selfies and posted pictures online (more so since I started this current project). There is so much deliberation before I publish a picture that sometimes it hardly seems worth the effort. Yet during the creation of Fractured Identities, I have produced and posted many selfies. But even now, I still dislike viewing the images online.
“It’s of me, but it’s not me. Portraiture can be interpreted as a kind of betrayal, but in fact it’s fiction.”
– Katy Grannan (Griffin, 2016)
Each time I step in front of the camera my stomach still leaps. I feel that compulsive need still to play the fool. But this time I have had a plan. Each self-portrait has had a deadpan expression. This has ensured that getting the image right for the project has been more important than my uncomfortable self-consciousness in front of the lens.
I had told a few people I was having the shoot done and was completely aware I would have to show (and publish) an unflattering photograph of myself. I am a very confident person but know that my impression of myself is not matched by the way I look in a photograph. I don’t need to see images that show my double chin or chubby cheeks. I know I have those, years of taking replacement steroids for Addison’s Disease have made sure of that.
But of course, each photograph does not tell the whole story of me. They are mere snapshots in time. They are nothing more than a 2D flat image of me, and just a representation of me at that. You cannot determine my personality completely from the image.
There is an honesty and vulnerability about my images that I like. Surprising eh? I can view the images objectively in terms of my body of work. Doesn’t mean I have to like what I see. The lighting is deliberate to create a 3-dimensional view of myself. I don’t have much of an expression; I am thinking about how much I am disliking the process.
This image sums up and underpins what my body of work is about. Being in front of the camera is a performance. I was having to perform for the camera in order to get the shot. I am totally aware that I need each shot for part of the project. Exploring the impact of online expectations can only happen on my own images. Technically the image is strong; the choice of the mask for the prop, the plain t-shirt, and dark backdrop ensure that the visual weight of the image is on the subject. I don’t need to like the image to appreciate the place it has in my practice.
Figure 1: Sutherst. 2018. Images from the project ‘Fractured Identities’
Technically the images are strong; the choice of the makeup and props as a mask in some of the images, the dark t-shirts, and plain backdrop ensure that the visual weight of the image is on the subject. I don’t need to like the images to appreciate the place they have in my practice.
Moving forwards, I will keep taking images of myself and I will keep using them in my bodies of work. I already have plans for more self-portraiture work – who would have foreseen that?
Denes, M. (2005). Interview: Melissa Denes meets photographer Katy Grannan. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2005/nov/05/photography [Accessed 22 July 2018].
Griffin, J. (2016). View from the edge: Katy Grannan’s photographs at Somerset House, London. [online] Available at: https://www.ft.com/content/7ed7800a-1185-11e6-839f-2922947098f0 [Accessed 22 July 2018].