In a time with an unprecedented number of opportunities to see ourselves, decide on our appearance and share it with the entire world, questions arise on how this affects our self image and value and whether our perceived image actually resonates with how we are viewed by others.
External natural forces like gravity dramatically change our facial features. When moving, this happens all within milliseconds, but the overall pull of gravity while we age changes our appearance significantly, even though we might still feel very young.
Digital manipulation of the face confronts the viewer with the way the human brain is wired to recognise others and him or herself. It shows that what we see is not a direct reflection of the information that our eyes pick up, but the result of the wiring of our brain to read the visual information that it receives. The way we think we look is based on physical facial experiences we have when we communicate with others. Since this conditioning is based on completely different input, the visual notion of ourselves is very poor.
Besides the actual way we look and wiring of the brain, we have an internal notion of ourselves when we ‘live in our own world’. What do we look like in our imaginations in different times and places?
‘Notions of Self’ explores these moments and aspects of self awareness through focusing on the relation between self and time and place and the inner processes that shape our ideas on who we are and what we look like. It hopes to trigger thoughts about ourselves, how we perceive ourselves and others, the subjectivity of beauty and our significance in the time and place we’re in.
With this assignment I feel that I have challenged myself with coming up with a wide variety of images, using different cameras and lenses and angles. I have tried to be critical about the quality outcomes of the work, as you can see in the selection process of the images. While I’m working on the assignment, my awareness of myself and how to visualize that was heightened like never before and I hope this is reflected in the work as well.
I struggled quite a bit with the design of the book, having never done that on such a scale before. As you can see in the preparations, I have gone through about 8 different layouts and uses of text. I am sure that when I look at it again in a few weeks I will be wanting to make changes again. It was challenging, but in a good way.
Quality of outcome
In general I am quite content with the outcome of my work. I think that the images go well together and offer a coherent theme throughout the book. I have applied some of the techniques and ideas that I studied in Part 3 of the course and was especially inspired by learning about how our brain works and the ways in which we perceive ourselves. I wasn’t sure whether or not to add captions to the photographs and was very happy to read Shakespeare’s quote on the eye. It captures everything I wanted to say through the book. I believe this supports the communication of ideas, together with the diversity of the images themselves.
Demonstration of creativity
I believe that the variety of images shows that I have experimented a lot with different ideas, techniques and ways to photograph myself. The selection process of the images show my choices and my personal voice and opinion about what I find what works and doesn’t. I believe I am better at critiquing than creating my work and I want to develop my conceptual thinking and skills to execute the ideas I come up with. I really enjoyed this assignment though and felt a lot of room to explore my creative side and challenge myself to improve my photography skills.
There is always ample room for improvement when it comes identifying and establishing the context in which I work. I don’t want to call myself lazy, but at a certain point I just want to be done with the assignment and continue with the course, which results in not adding enough context and research to the assignment itself. I am aware of that and thinking about other ways in which I can show my learning and development. maybe a physical logbook would be a good idea.
This assignment might have benefitted from showing more work of other artists who stand out when it comes to self portraiture. In my next assignment I want to be more diligent in writing about what I read and research.
I followed an interesting discussion on the OCA forum about working in a certain context and how to report on that. Somehow, I had always worked the other way around. First looking at a lot of art, reading articles and watching films and from there on decide on my own practice. However, as Peter pointed out, the idea is to first work on your assignment and from there on put it in a certain context.
Probably this order is not as strict as it sounds, I believe the context I work in is constantly expanding and changing, aware or unaware. It is impossible to come up with a certain idea that is completely my own, even if I think it is, there always turns out to be an other photographer who has done similar work. Thinking about my own way of working, I’d say that most of my ideas are developed quite spontaneously, but are influenced by work I have recently looked at or have actively been looking for in order to get a bigger platform of ideas to work from.
My own journaling is pretty poorly and I think I should push myself more to make notes on what I see, explore and notice in my daily life and when I’m studying. I think it will make my thought processes more visible and show on the long run how my own voice is developing. I realize that what keeps me from doing that is actually not having a color printer and being very bad at drawing. These are both stumble blocks that I can do something about, so better get started!
For this assignment my tutor told me to look at the ways in which Vivian Maier incorporated self portraits in her oeuvre of work. When I look at them, I see an inquisitiveness about putting herself in the environment she is photographing and how her photographic practices portray herself in the scenes she is creating. Her presence is never at random. They are carefully placed in the frame, sometimes reminding of self portraits of Escher, Lee Friedlander and other artists.
Vivian’s work was a very private matter, but these examples show that she was part of a bigger picture and let herself be influenced by other photographers. I see striking similarities with Lee Friedlander’s selfies, the same type of experimenting with mirrors and reflection, shadows and using one’s own presence in defining the theme and focus of the image. When photographing I deliberately tried to come up with a similar image, especially in these:
All three show a certain disruption of the scene through my presence, changing the subject from a domestic object or street scene into an experience of me being there, showing an integration self with the exterior world and the change of function and meaning of myself and the place I am in.
The photographs that I took at night, which are constructed, even though not a whole lot of construction took place, remind me, humbly, of the work of Gregory Crewdson and Hannah Starkey. The seem to reflect a certain loneliness and ‘inwardly focused’ that I find striking for their work. Although I haven’t added the second image to the book, I do think it works really well in this set, so I wanted to add it anyway.
I am not sure in which context I could place my images that have been manipulated and that show the change of features when jumping up and down. However, the idea of photographing motion and showing moments that are not discernible by human eye was already explored in the late 19th century by Muybridge. In a sense I want to focus on the same concept, that our eyes don’t see the way we look and that our impression of what we see is not based on the sum of the scenes together. This idea also comes across in the manipulated images, showing the boundaries of our visual awareness and where the interpreting of our brain takes over.
Overall, the concept of self portraiture has been explored throughout the history of art, but I do think that social media and smart phones have challenged the reasoning behind self portraiture in a big way. My assignment touches upon the issues of narcissism and exhibitionism, individuality and privacy, digital and tangible reality, self portrayal and the notions of self that our societies are facing now and therefor can be put in the wider context of artists working on similar subjects.