Looking into Self Portraiture, or really the lies of it..

The Self Portrait has been around since almost the dawn of time.  They are looked upon as to give us an ‘actual’ account of not only what the person looked like, but to purport something of the character of that person as well. But aren’t self portraits just lies anyway? Do these images really show who and how we are? My image from ‘12 Steps’ (fig 2) and Tomoko Sawada’s from ‘ID400’ (fig 1) are similar, even though they look very different.

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fig1: Tomoko Sawada, ID400, 1998

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fig 2: Nathan Larkin, 12 Steps, Image 11, 2013

The images produced by Tomoko Sawada for ID400 (fig 1) are in the style of Passport Photos. We can see that these pictures are a person, but there is nothing to tell us they are the same person. We as the viewer make a connection with these people as different people, even though there might be something in our inner self that tells us otherwise.  My picture from 12 Steps (fig 2) is a picture of something we recognise as an item used in many different ways in its original form, but as we look at the image we know it’s not as it seems. Again an isolated prop on a plain background gives us nothing; we have to fill in the salient details with our mind. It’s not until this process happens that we stumble upon a truth behind the image, it’s a self portrait using the prop as the representation of the photographer. The images are telling us lies, even though they are telling the truth.

Sawada admits that ‘the gap between my real image and my image in the picture widened’ (Verena, 2013), making her images not only her, but different types of her. My image of the Syringe is in a way similar in idea. I attempted to create an image where the viewer would look past the item and see me as the item; much like the way Sawada uses her costumes to alter her role in the photograph so her appearance could be changed easily, but her personality did not change. My image is a truth and a lie in a similar breath; it’s a likeness of me without being me identically. I was able to use props as my costumes, thus keeping me in every image but keeping my actual self out at the same time; Henri Cartier-Bresson would argue that there is no such thing as a true portrait let alone a self portrait. He goes as far as reminding us that ‘there are thousands of ways to distill the essence’ (Cartier-Bresson, 2006), so we don’t have to limit ourselves to the one look or style, we can literally be ourselves without having to be ourselves.

Self Portraits have nothing to offer the viewer but lies about how we want to be perceived. We are led to believe this as absolute because we would never show ourselves in a bad light and want to have all the luxuries of perfection to hide behind, so our imperfect trueness has somewhere to hide. It was said that Richard Avedon would take all the power away from the sitter and place it firmly behind the camera with him (Kerby, 2010), so as the photographer and sitter we do the same; hiding behind masks and objects to reflect a version of us that we want seen, so no matter how many a layer is peeled away from the subject, we never really get the truth.

Bibliography

Cartier-Bresson, H. 2006, ‘The Decisive Moment’. In P. Hamilton, Visual Research Methods, pp. 3-15, London: Sage Publications Ltd.

Kerby, T. (Director), 2010, ‘The Genius of Photography’ [Television Series], Episode5: We are Family, BBC.

Verena, 25 02 2008, ‘The Many Facets of Tomoko Sawada’. Retrieved 17 08 2013, from Ping Magazine: http://pingmag.jp/2008/02/25/the-many-facets-of-tomoko-sawada/

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