Autobiographical self portraiture

We’re all familiar with selfies in this day and age but what do they actually tell you about the real person inside?  Very little as selfies are generally an airbrushed, rose tinted version of us.

Autobiographical self portraiture is a much deeper visceral representation of who we are and how we think.

I initially looked a the work of Francesca Woodman (1958-81), Elina Brotherus and Gillian Wearing, Gillian of which I have come across in a previous module and am familiar with her work.

When I first researched Gillian Wearing‘s work, in particular her project entitled ‘Album’ I found it quite disturbing.  Gillian made and wore prosthetic masks of members of her close family and photographed herself wearing them.  She would wear the accompanying wigs, make up and clothes for full reproduction.  The masks were so convincing it made me feel like she was wearing other peoples faces, which she was, but in a sinister sense.  The aim for Gillian though was to portray a moment in time for each family member where the pressures of life weren’t written on their faces.  Gillian had forgotten the real images in the photographs and replaced them with the older more warn versions of her family.  So the project was about the concepts of memory and reality.

Gillian as her father Brian

It’s not always obvious on first glance that every photograph is one person wearing masks and costumes to look identical to other family members.  They also appear to have been taken at different times in her families history by using specific fashion and the appropriate use of black and white dating her father before the 1970’s.  On second glance its obvious the eyes aren’t quite right and I liken the images to that of a horror film.

Why masks?  Is Gillian masking her own identity for some reason? Is Gillian trying to find our what it feels like to be a different member of her family?  Or even at a different moment in time?  The need and drive to masquerade as her family must come from some deep psychological place within her.

In Auto Focus by Susan Bright, this was written about Gillian’s work on the ‘Album’ project ‘The mask acted as a disguise but also as a metaphorical device that helped her to examine her family through photography.’ (Bright, 2010:155)

Elina Brotherus is another contemporary photographer who uses photography as an explorative tool.  In her photo series ‘Annunciation’ Brotherus documented her IVF struggle using photography a her medium.  The series gave an emotional insight into her many failed IVF attempts with lots of clues along the way of what it was like to fit IVF into her life.  Being naked in most of the self portraits, Brotherus exposed herself to the world both literally and metaphorically in what was a very personal and bitterly disappointing journey.  I wonder what was the significance of the silhouette poster in ‘Annunciation 14, 2012’?  Was this a current day representation of the angel Gabriel?  Was it intentional to have her back to the dark figure?

Francesca Woodman, an American photographer, used self portraiture as a way of expressing her thoughts and feelings.  It was common practice to obscure her face and blur her body which represented the state of her mind at that time.

All three artists concentrated on themselves as an outlet for what they wanted to portray.  It’s in stark contrast to myself who works exclusively behind the camera as I cannot tolerate any kind of attention.  I don’t think it’s narcissistic to want to photograph yourself in fact I think it’s the complete opposite.  It’s incredibly altruistic and brave to expose your innermost thoughts through photography.  Once a photo is produced it’s an eternal record so theres no turning back, it’s very final.  Most people can relate to some of the issues raised in these projects and it’s incredibly selfless to allow those people to have an insight into something thats so intimately personal especially in Elina Brotherus’ Annunciation.

Bright, S. (2010) Auto Focus. London: Thames and Hudson

Bright, S. (2005) Art Photography Now.  London: Thames and Hudson


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