BA Phot

C&N Part 3: Putting yourself in the picture

Page 1


Project 1 Autobiographical - Project 2 - Masquerades - Exc. 3.1 - Exc. 3.2 - Exc. 3.3 - Project 3 - Self-absented - Exc. 3.4 - Upsum

Brotherus - Calle - Fox - Kapajeva - Lee - Moffatt - Morrissey - Shafran - Sherman - Taylor-Johnson - van Manen - Wearing - Woodman - Conclusion

See the blog, 1st December for consideration of the referencing used on this page.
And further comments on local referencing here.

We hold these truths to be self evident.

[9Jan20] I noted the following quote from EyV when starting C&N and I'll note it again.

At OCA we believe that your position or viewpoint is absolutely as valuable as the position of any author that you read; the only difference is that you probably won’t have fully discovered, or at least articulated, it yet. Your viewpoint is the source of your imagination and ideas but it can be quite a long journey to bring it into the light. EyV [1, p. 101]

And there is another to add from Sue Sontag ,

photographs do not seem strongly bound by the intention of the photographer Sontag, On Photography, quoted in La Grange, Basic critical theory for photographers, [4, p.37]

[spellchecked  ]

[27Feb20, [2, p.73]] The cmat identifies three strands of photographic self portraiture and examines the work of several artists in each:

Autobiographical self-portraiture —Woodman, Brotherus and Wearing.
Masquerades — Lee, Morrissey and Moffat
Self-absented portraiture — Calle, Kapajeva, Sharan and Fox 

Project 1 - Autobiographical self-portraiture

Box A
1. self portrait,
early 1990s

[27Feb20, [2, p.72]] On the matter of self portraiture, I began to explore the genre during EyV when I developed the notion that many photographers are drawn to the idiom and that there is a performative strand that women photographers seem to be more drawn to than men.

I have never felt the need or desire to portray myself, other than in family snaps on self-timer or Photoshop composites, but I am having enormous fun with the self portraiture engendered by this course.

As mentioned elsewhere, Ray Spense made the point in a lecture I attended decades ago that if there is no available and willing body on which to inflict one's creative urges, then use your own.

Manuel Álvarez Bravo
Box B
Álvarez Bravo
self portrait

On the more straightforward autobiographical s-p,the cmat observes,

This doesn’t mean that the work isn’t also about mankind in a wider sense, but the starting point comes from a direct connection with who they are and the photographic tools they employ to pursue their identity. C&N [2, p.73]

This struck me as rather pointless (or even fatuous) speculation. Bearing in mind Sontag's quote above, any photograph is, to them, 'about' whatever the viewer finds it to be. Who is to say that in fig. B1 Álvarez Bravo didn't just notice his own reflection and instinctively took a snap with no thoughts or intentions of deeper or higher meanings?
[28Feb] Perhaps that's a little harsh. Where photographers work on a considered series that features their own bodies, they might be entirely egocentric, or consciously seeking to cast light on a wider issue and whichever it might be (or something between) the viewer will bring their own interpretation to it anyway. And I still guess Álvarez Bravo's shot to be an instinctive, selfie.

Francesca Woodman

We start with the tragically late and great Francesca Woodman, first encountered in EyV, and a quote from Bright's Art Photography Now,

It is difficult not to read Woodman’s many self-portraits – she produced over five hundred during her short lifetime – as alluding to a troubled state of mind. She committed suicide at the age of twenty-two. Susan Bright, Art Photography Now (2010), p.25

and the cmat asks, 'What evidence can you find for Bright’s analysis?'

I had intended to read the whole of Bright's analysis, but curiously Woodman does not appear in the 2011 'revised and expanded edition' of Bright's book. [3]

When you know Woodman's background (arts education, tried but failed to get work in fashion photography, relationship breakdown, suicide attempts in 1980 and again, fatally, in 1981, (Tate [i] quoting Wikipedia, quoting the NY Times)) it is inevitable that her photographs are interpreted through a filter of one's personal experience of, or reaction to, suicide. Another important piece of information is that she often uses herself as a subject and often naked (this is self-evident here where we are talking about self-portraiture, but a viewer encountering Woodman's work would not necessarily know that). With those three pieces of information (her suicide, her self-portraiture, frequently unclothed) it is perhaps unsurprising that one thinks of a wish to expose conflicting with a wish to conceal when considering fig. C1, especially bearing in mind the title, Self-Deceit. That said, the image was made in 1974, when Woodman was studying in Rome, before the life events associated with her suicide and presumably at a happier time for the artist.

Woodman Woodman, Eel series
Box C
1. Self-Deceit #4, Rome, 1978
2. Untitled, from Eel Series, Venice, Italy 1978
© the estate of Francesca Woodman

Interpretations of Woodman's Eel series, again self-portraiture, are left to the viewer, but an a priori, superficial, Freudian reaction will not surprise.

In a short article [ii] on a 2018 exhibition of Woodman's work, her mother is quoted as saying,

It’s a basic fallacy that her death is what she was all about… Her life wasn’t a series of miseries. People read that into the photographs. They psychoanalyse them. Betty Woodman, 2014, quoted in

But, when considering Woodman's family, Wikipedia [iii] (debate continues here) quotes an Observer article (Gaby Wood, The lady vanishes, 25 July 1999, not available online) that states.

Woodman created at least 10,000 negatives, which her parents now keep. Woodman's estate, which is managed by Woodman's parents, consists of over 800 prints, of which only around 120 images had been published or exhibited as of 2006 Gaby Wood, The Observer, 199, quoted in Wikipedia [iii]

It is possible to speculate that Woodman's family, through their management of her archive are seeking to manage perceptions of their daughter, Francesca's work.

It may be concluded that photographers are complex; photographs are complex; viewers of photographers are complex. And even opinions about viewers of photographers are complex and varied.

Elina Brotherus
b: 1972 Helsinki
Artist's site - Wikipedia

Elina Brotherus [2, p.75] is a Finnish photographer who has explored her own issues through elf-portraiture, again sometimes unclothed. The cmat describes two of her series,
Model Study, 2004, 'where she is interested in the role of the artist’s gaze in self-portraiture' [2, p.75]
and Annonciation, 2012 her reaction to the failure of her IVF treatment.

The artist's web site details a number of other projects and describes (in the third person) her oeuvre as,

[working] in photography and moving image. Her work has been alternating between autobiographical and art-historical approaches. Photographs dealing with the human figure and the landscape, the relation of the artist and the model, gave way to images on subjective experiences in her recent bodies of work Annonciation and Carpe Fucking Diem. Elina Brotherus [iv]
Elina Brotherus Elina Brotherus Elina Brotherus
Box D
1. Model Study 6, 2004
2. Annonciation 5, Avallon 19.12.2010, 2010
3. Artist and Model Reflected in a Mirror 2, 2007
© Elina Brotherus
The works are discussed in exercise 3.1, but it is worth mentioning the recurring themes of dirty mirrors and the use and inclusion of an air pressure shutter release which echoes Cindy Sherman's early work.
Gillian Wearing Gillian Wearing
Box D
Self Portrait at 17 Years Old, 2003
Gillian Wearing

[28Feb] Let's turn to Turner Prize winning (1997) Gillian Wearing [2, p.77] for some light relief. Wearing recreates images from her family photo albums, playing herself in earlier life or other members of her family. The cmat describes this as,

questioning her role in her family history and also questioning the role her family has played in who she has become. The same question is asked of the viewer. What role have our family histories played in who we are?C&N [2, p.77]

Or perhaps she just enjoys dressing up and has found a profitable niche. For the viewer it is playful and entertaining and perhaps thought-provoking.

The cmat also mentions Sally Mann, Elinor Carucci, Richard Billingham and Tierney Gearon in the 'family portrait' as art context.

Before addressing the questions in Exc.3.1, a couple of other workers in this field worth considering (especially as 3.1 instructs 'do some further research of your own') are Cindy Sherman and Sam Taylor-Johnson (aka Taylor-Wood).

Sherman is the doyen of this idiom as she has been photographing herself in various guises from her student days in the 1970s to the present day.
Sam Taylor-Johnson is, perhaps, best known for her engagingly-titled piece, Self-portrait in Single-breasted Suit with Hare, 2001 which is usually in a prominent place on the first floor of the National Portrait Gallery (although that is about to close for a 2-year makeover). She has produced a number other works and series of self-portraiture, including the Self-Portrait Suspended series of 2004, of which Bright ([3] p.30) states,

[Taylor-Johnson's] self-portraits often reflect significant chapters in her life and are markers for change or progression. They form an important autobiographical thread which weaves through her overall practice Bright [3] p.30

Bright goes on to quote Taylor-Johnson,

I have done self-portraits throughout my career, but with these [Suspended] I didn't want them to be too recognisable as me … Initially I thought I wanted it to be naked but then that would have become the focus of the piece and they would have become something very different. Bright [3] p.31
Sherman Sam Taylor-Johnson Sam Taylor-Johnson
Box E
1. Cindy Sherman, Untitled Film Stills #21, 1977-80
2. Sam Taylor-Johnson, Self-portrait in Single-breasted Suit with Hare, 2001
3.Sam Taylor-Johnson, Self Portrait Suspended VII, 2004

Exercise 3.1

is shown on another page.


Autobiographical self-portraiture is the first of three applications of the craft addressed in this Part. It might be used to illustrate or emphasise an aspect of the artist's life, sometimes to draw attention to an issue within society and it may have a therapeutic, cathartic intention.

Project 1 - Local References

(i) The Tate (n.d.) Francesca Woodman [online]. Available from [Accessed 27 February 2020].

(ii) Wrigley, T (2018) How Photographer Francesca Woodman Came Into Her Own in Italy [online]. Available from [Accessed 27 February 2020].

(iii) Wikipedia (2020) Francesca Woodman [online]. Available from [Accessed 27 February 2020].

(iv) Brotherus, E. (2018) Elina Brotherus [online]. Available from [Accessed 27 February 2020].


1. Bloomfield, R (2017) Expressing your vision. Barnsley: Open College of the Arts.

2. Boothroyd, S (2017) Context and narrative. Barnsley: Open College of the Arts.

3. Bright, S. (2011) Art Photography Now (2nd edn.). London: Thames & Hudson.

4. La Grange, A. (2005) Basic critical theory for photographers. Burlington, MA: Focal Press.

5. Szarkowski, J. (1978) Mirrors and Windows. New York: MoMA

6. Bright, S. & van Erp, H (2019) Photography decoded. London: Ilex.

7. Shore, S. (2007) The nature of photographs. 2nd ed. London: Phaidon Press.

8. Soutter, L. (2013) Why art photography? London: Routledge.

The full OCA C&N references are specified at the end of the course material [2] and are repeated here for ease of access.

Page created 18-Feb-2020 | Page updated 27-Apr-2021