Whydoes an artist/ photographer need to create or take self- portraits? Oneof the important genres of art is portraiture. The artist depicts a person, wherethe face and expression are predominant. Often, these persons are the artiststhemselves.
Morerecently as the technology improved, people use small digital cameras or eventheir smart phones and take photos of themselves which, in most of the cases,they share online through social networks. But how all these started? When did peoplestart taking images of themselves or start depicting themselves and more importantwhy has somebody done that? Is it a simple act of taking a photo or it issomething deeper? Is it an act of self awareness or a narcissistic act? Thetradition of self depiction Depictionof the Self is not something new (Cumming, 2009),(Dybisz, 2011), (Collins), (Fernández). The first self portraits dateback to Ancient Egypt and Greece. Historic evidence shows that Pharaohs carvedtheir faces and bodies in their tombs. Later, in the middle ages the architectsof great cathedrals included their own likeliness in the sculpted decoration. Selfportraiture though become more popular with the great painters of theRenaissance from the around the 14th to 17th century.
Famous examples of theseare Albrecht Dürer (1471- 1528), Rembrandt (1606- 1669) and Leonardo Da Vinci(1452- 1519). Then in more recent years the painters did not aim to accuratedepict themselves but more try to heal or express themselves through paintings.Famous painters of the 19th and 20th century who produce self-portraits areGustave Courbet (1819- 1877), Vincent van Gogh (1853-1590), Edward Munch (1863-1944),Picasso (1881-1973) and Salvador Dali (1904-1989). The invention of photographygave another tool to the artists to depict themselves. Thefirst photographic self portraits (Bright, 2010, p.8)date back to around 1800.
As photography required “less skills” thanthe painting, it came with no surprise that the photographers/ artists point the camera to themselves. Andy Warhol (1928- 1987) most famous for hispaintings and prints also used photography to an experimental degree in hisself portraiture (Dybisz, 2011, p. 12).
Possiblythe most famous artist for her photographic self portraits is Cindy Sherman (b.1954) who explored various identities and characters (Dybisz,2011, p. 12). Then more recently the invention of digitalphotography and internet allow larger numbers of photographers to take selfportraits. In most of the cases their audience where their friends and thosewho noticed their websites. Today,cameras are part of the mobile phones.
This fact with the low cost of mobileinternet data and the creation of social networks like facebook, twitter andinstagram make the action of taking a photo of oneself and the online sharingof it, part of the daily routine of some people. These photos are notconsidered anymore pieces of art. It is important to note though that stillthere are contemporary photographers who use good quality DSLR cameras andproduce good quality self- portraits.
As we can see from this shorthistory of the self portraiture as the time past the art also followed thetechnological evolution of other parts of life. The first self- portraits were sculptures,followed by paintings, photos (from film to digital) and even videos. It isalso interesting that even the terminology used of the depictions of the selfby an artist/ person followed this technological evolution. From calling them”pictures of likeness of the artist by their hands” (Cumming, 2009, p.
84) to portraits of theself, self- portraits and the recently adopted “selfie” (OxfordDictionaries Blog, 2013), (Oxford Dictionaries Online). The subjects of the self-portraitsalso change through the time, although the Self is and was present and animportant part. From religious subjects to imaginary worlds and more recentlyto simply parts of the body (for example female breasts or bottom). It is alsointeresting that in photography we have more female artist compared topainting. Possibly this is connected with the change of the position of thewoman in the society in general in the most recent years. Also, self-portraiture allowed female artists a certain amount of freedom from theconstraining traditional artistic representations, in which women were so oftenmuses for men (Bright, 2010, p.15).
WhySelf- Depiction? Themain question is why people do so, why they spent hours to create an image oftheir own likeness with brushes or paint surrealistic portraits with featuresof themselves? And finally, why the photographer choose to be in both sides ofthe camera when he can easier take portraits of other people, is there a deeperreason for that? Do the artists cover some other needs with that? Do theseneeds/ motives change over the time as the art itself evolve? Inorder to answer this questions I will try to look in the work and thoughts ofsome artists who practise self portraiture, mainly contemporary photographers. Also,I will try to explore what the psychiatrists say about the “selfies”people take. Finally, in the conclusion, I will also speak about my ownexperience, how I used photography as a therapeutic tool. Motivations The Pharaohspossibly portrayed themselves in huge dimensions for the same reasons theybuild the huge pyramids as their own tombs, to show their power and glory.
Renaissance painters produce self- portraits, possibly to sell them or to showtheir skills to potential clients (Cumming, 2009). One reason photographers take self portraitsis convenience (Dybisz, 2011, p.20). They havethemselves available any time they want to take a portrait. They do not have tosearch for models.
They do not need to direct others, and they do not have todescribe/ express what they have in their mind. Also photographers sometimes”showcase” their skills to potential clients by posting/ sharingtheir work to social networks. But for most photographers who take self-portraits these are not the only reasons. As Cindy Sherman said (Cumming, 2009,p.257), spending some time when she was moody or depressed, turning herself tosomebody else has a cathartic effect on her. And Sherman is not alone here.
YuliaGorodinski (Dybisz, 2011, p.130- 137) inspiredby her emotions, usually her melancholy to take her autobiographical self-portraits. This process is pain relieving for her and it is her way to let itout.
For Joanne Ratkowski (Dybisz, 2011, p.122- 129) takingself portraits is a kind of “photo-therapy”. Being a psychologist,her photographic work is a influenced by her profession. The self- portraitsshe take are a documentation of her own psyche, a visual personal journal,where she often tries to explore themes related to personal painful overcomings. Sometimesphotographers create an alter ego of themselves, with elements of theirpersonality in their self-portraits. Rossina Bossio (Dybisz,2011, p.106-113) acts and plays roles in front of the camera.
Shecreates her own stage. Those characters are never completely separate fromherself and always linked to her most private emotions and life experiences.She tries to examine in her work other possible identities of women, she triesto celebrate body and sexuality because as a child and adolescent she had todenied them (protestant upbringing, catholic school for girls). JonJacobsen (Dybisz, 2011, p.138- 145), in hisself portraits creates a surreal word he dreams about, and that is a specialway to express his personal feeling and experiences. Taking self portraits makehim feel freer than ever, giving him a sense of inner balance. For him, alsothe character in the self- portraits is an alter ego, an exaggeratedrepresentation, but one that is build up from fragments of his own personality.
ForCharles Latham (Bright, 2010, p.26-27), thealter ego and self are present in the same image (two photos combined in oneimage). Initially, after breaking up from a relationship, he created a series of photos that showed himphysically harming himself.
Those alarmed his friends when they were postedonline. In order to continue exploring himself and continue to investigate thefeelings and issues he explored in the initial series in a more controlled way, he invented Cyrus.Cyrus is an imaginary friend, alter ego and personal demon, named after hismiddle name, something he is ashamed of and has been a long kept secret. AnnettePehrsson (Dybisz, 2011, p.98- 105) makes selfportraits simply because she wants to capture moments and different stages ofher mind. She also included her partner in her self- portraits and that helpedher to feel closer to him.
Latoya Ruby Frazier (Bright,2010, p.30- 33), also improve the relationship and connection with hermother and grandmother by including them in her self- portraits. Photographersalso took self portraits to document stages or changes in their lives anddocument how they change as the time passed. Noah Kalina (Dybisz, 2011, p.
114- 121) has been amazed how muchhis appearance have changed over the course of few years, after going through ashoebox with photographs from his early teenage years. That inspired him totake a photo of himself everyday for the rest of his life. Malerie Marder (Bright,2010, p.68- 69) attempted to capture her reaction on the ongoingphysical changes, while she was pregnant by taking one self- portrait for eachof the nine months of the gestation.
Sam Taylor- Wood (Bright,2010, p.38- 41), made self portraits which act as markers for events andperiods of transition in her life. Few examples, she took one shortly aftergraduated from art school and started working as night club manager, one takenafter she had a mastectomy as a result of a second battle with cancer andanother one when she moved to a new studio. AnnaFox (Bright, 2010, p.44- 45), took selfportraits where she documents herself progressively becoming more and moredrunk. She uses the camera as a therapeutic tool to document herover-indulgences and to remind herself later not to go to the extremes. We started from the painters of thepast, whose painting were admired mainly by the visitors of the art galleriesor museums or the visitors of the houses of the wealthy people who are and wereable to buy them.
Then the contemporary photographers, whose audience wasmainly from their friends and followers in the social network. Finally, todayeverybody is able to take a photo of themselves using their smart phone or webcamera and post them to the social networks making them accessible toeverybody. Even a new world has been used for this kind of photo the popular-selfie. Scientist found that people takeselfies for reasons different from those the artists have done either now orthe past. They connected the selfies (Arata, 2015), (Briggs2014), (Graham, 2014), (Keating, 2014) tobody image issues, narcissism (Singal, 2015), mental illness, addiction andsuicide. In one case, a man diagnosed with body dysmorphic disorder, becamesuicidal due to his addiction to taking selfies (The Huffington Post, 2014), (Savastio,2014). Conclusion Self-portraiture is not a simple act of taking a photo of the self, but there issomething deeper on it.
In many cases contemporary photographers take selfportraits to express themselves and/ or for therapeutic reasons. This is inagreement with my own photographic practise. Inthe past, when I was in the early stage of depression or high levels of anxiety(but with counselling managed to overcome it before become depressed), I alsoused self portraiture as a therapeutic tool, and was taking a series of self-portraits wearing masks to cover my face and possibly re-discover myself.Looking back to it, I think it was also partially self- humiliation, with theworst example when I put myself in a rubbish bag and place me by the rubbishbin in the kitchen wearing a white mask. However, when I start feeling better Istart taking series of self-portraits with no masks and not so negativeconcepts. Now, I am not so often taking self- portraits but when I do so it ismore like a need to picture myself in that stage of my life, a need to expresshow I am feeling about that stage of my life.
Mostof the people do not think like me or the photographers/ artists for whichself- portraiture is and was a way to express themselves, their thought andfeelings. For most people, a “selfie” is a capturing of a moment, astatement of look to what I am doing, where and with whom, or a way of actingand sharing some fake moments for your “friends” to feel jealous ofyou, but not for the sake of art, just for the Ego part of the self.