Anne Darling Photography

Self Portrait Photography

A device in self portrait photography that has long been popular is to use a mirror and point your camera at it. This is obviously what took place in the shot below by Stanley Kubrick, Academy Award winning American director, writer, producer, and photographer of films. (Stanley Kubrick movies include A Clockwork Orange and 2001: a Space Odyssey.)

In his self-portrait, Kubrick's eyes are pointing upwards almost as if he doesn't want to look at his own reflection. Kubrick was a reclusive kind of guy or so myth woould have it. It is also said that he could be very rude and tactless with his colleagues, that he was cold and lacking in sympathy.

self portrait photography stanley kubrick
Self Portrait by Stanley Kubrick (Late 1940s)

Can a self portrait photography give us insight into a person's character? Some say you can see a person's soul in their photograph particularly in a self portrait. What do you see in the face in the above photograph? Do you think black and white self portraits are more powerful than colour?

self portrait photography Edgar de Evia
Self Portrait by Edgar de Evia (1910-2003)

The use of a mirror in self portrait photography also allows the photographer to create environmental portraits where objects from their life can be seen in the background as is the case in the above picture. Edgar de Evia (1910-2003), was a Mexican-born American photographer. His self portrait shows an oil painting of himself as a child by the artist M. Jean McLane and lets us compare the Evia of today with the Evia of his childhood and invites us to contemplate the passage of time. It's almost a kind of vanitas, not dissimilar to the self portrait below by Cindy Sherman.

self portrait photography gun arvidssen
Self Portrait by Gun Arvidssen

The above self-portrait is by Gun Arvidssen, an Australian writer and musician and the manufacturer of a lighting system known as CILS (Cybernetically Inegrated Lighting System). I don't know exactly how the photograph is constructed but it would seem that he didn't use a mirror. I would guess that he is standing behind a large piece of glass with the camera on the other side. By choosing an appropriate angle, the lights (presumably part of his own lighting system) are reflected in such a way that they seem to emanate from within his own head. Strange but effective.

self portrait photography hippolyte bayard
Self Portrait as a Drowned man by Hippolyte Bayard (1840)

Not all self portrait photography relies on mirrors or reflections in glass but can be carefully staged constructs such as the image above by Hippolyte Bayard of himself posing as a drowned man.

Bayard was one of the principal inventors of photography but postponed announcing his discovery and was beaten to it by Louis Daguerre (inventor of the Daguerrotype and co-inventor of photography with Joseph Nicephore Niepce). The self portrait of him as a man who had committed suicide by drowning was his response to the French Government who, Bayard felt, had been "too generous to Monsieur Daguerre" and had said they could do nothing for Bayard so the "poor wretch" drowned himself.

self portrait photography cindy sherman Right: Cindy Sherman - Retrospective

No one has taken the genre of self portrait photography further than Cindy Sherman. In fact, if you take all her self portraits together they constitute a kind of Cindy Sherman biography, not because they show us the factual side of her life, in fact they don't, but because they provide her with a means to express her thoughts, feelings and responses to the world she inhabits.

In her photographs Sherman uses herself as the model and dresses up (and sometimes down!), drawing us into a dramatic world of many different personas, all created by the photographer.

Sherman's Centrefold series which was created in 1981 as part of a project for Artforum has 12 images, all created in the format of a magazine centrefold, all self portraits of Sherman herself. In fact Artforum decided not to use them in the end but they became very well known and popularised as part of Sherman's oeuvre. They are part of a hardcover catalogue produced by the New Museum of Contemporary Art in a small, collectible print run. The above image is taken from the series.

self portrait photography cindy sherman

Self portrait photography offers the possibility of expressing so many different layers in one image. In this series, Sherman is alluding to images of women found in magazines but from the position of the women in the photographs, lying supine on the floor, Sherman communicates effectively the idea of specifically male magazines where women are often portrayed in passive poses such as this.

The cover photograph (above) shows a glimpse of her right foot as her leg is bent back on itself - did she collapse on to the floor? The crumpled piece of paper in her hand suggests a letter or some news, perhaps from her lover. Her hand ambiguously hovers around her groin as she gazes into the distance. Her mind does not inhabit the same space as her body or perhaps she is dead, it's almost impossible to tell.

The photograph seems to belong to the genre of photojournalism and wouldn't be out of place in a newspaper, reporting a disaster of some kind, but at the same time, the colours harmonize, the pattern on her skirt is reflected in the pattern of the tiles, her face is made up with rouge, all factors establishing this as an art photograph.

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