Shooting Onself: Self-Portraits As Art

You may have noticed that I like taking self-portraits. It is something that I really enjoy, but I find myself asking myself why so I thought it would be great to share with you why I create them.
My self-portraits have nothing to do with vanity and looking good. In fact, I am not remotely interested in taking a ‘pretty’ picture of myself. I feel that such an image would serve no purpose to my life and even less so to others and, if anything, would become boring and tedious. I have known people in the past who have taken hundreds of images of themselves, mainly on their phones, in exactly the same position with different hair or facial expression. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against such images, I just have no interest in them.
For me, self-portraits (I’m talking about my own and generally) are super convenient. You don’t have to look for models and you’re always available. You don’t have to try and explain to someone else the kind of image you want to take and spend time photographing a model who is not giving you the right pose.
Another great thing about self-portraits is the fact that you are able to fully control all aspects of your photographs. You get to choose how you pose, where you go to shoot the image (which is super helpful if you want to do something a little odd like lie in a puddle or wrap a fishing net around your head):

Surrender

Surrender, (2013)

how much time you spend getting the right photograph and how you are going to edit the image. When you take a self-portrait you have the satisfaction of knowing that it is a sole effort. You don’t have to consult anyone else about what you are doing and you don’t have to meet any demands from other people (such as a modelling agency when shooting for model’s portfolios). I think that because it is something that you can do by yourself it becomes more personally fulfilling (not that shooting model aren’t). Also, because they are convenient it allows you to shoot a lot and really hone your photographical skills. You don’t even have to publish any of them or show them to anyone; you can just create them for yourself for the enjoyment.

My self-portraiture becomes more than just an image of myself. I don’t look back on my images and think ‘these are such great images of me’. In fact, I don’t really see my image a self-portraits at all. (This sounds confusing, but I’ll explain what I mean). When I think of an idea for an image, I always write ‘create an image a person….’ Because I never assume I am going to shoot any image as a self-portrait (unless it’s something super specific like a Facebook profile image).
Instead, I consider:

  • What the image is going to be about? Is it going to be an image in which I know someone willing to do what I want them to? I always know that I’m going to do what it takes to capture this image.
  • Where is the image going to be photographed? Is it going to be in a public place? If so, will the model be comfortable posing knowing that a lot of people may be watching? If I plan on shooting somewhere remote, will the model know where it is and be able to get there? I know where this location is, how long it will take to get there, set up and photograph.

I think a lot of the time it is about comfort. I know that if I want to create an image in which a person is standing in the middle of a downpour in straightjacket (which is a super random image idea that I made up- it could look cool though!) then I know that rather than finding someone that would be happy to do that for me to photograph them, that I would be more than willing to do that even if the images turns out to be a disaster.
I feel that self-portraits are a great way to develop your photography skills and it gives you a chance to explore you own subconscious. If you spent every day of a month creating a self-portrait and then view them all together, you will start to see themes that you enjoy photographing and notice similarities between the images you have produced. Once you see these, you can then start to think and question yourself as to why you like these themes and what your images not only say about you but what you are trying to say through your images. I find that a lot of my self-portraits tend to reflect my feelings at a certain time or ideas that I want to express without having to explain myself.
Another appealing (and challenging) aspect of self-portraits is reinvention. Think about it. If you plan on creating self-portraits, what are you going to do to stop all of your images looking the same? Nobody like looking through a portfolio/photo stream full of the same image shot from slightly different angles. Self-portraits force you to think about how your images, and ultimately you, are going to look to others. With self-portraits, you have to reinvent yourself. As clichéd as it sounds, you get to be anyone you want to be. It forces you to look at yourself, not only as you are, but who you want to be and shall become. Reinvention is something that is vital to self portrait artist. Think about your work for a second. How often do you create an image one day and the next day doing something completely opposite? Sure, you will always be the same element throughout your images but you can always change your appearance for your photographs (which I find is often easier for girls than it is for guys). Besides, it means that all of your images will at least share yourself as the common thread, if not anything else.
In my work, and in work of other self-portrait photographers, I often refer to the person in my images (whether it is a self-portrait or not) as a ‘character’ because that is what I become when the photograph is being taken. I almost ‘act’ for the photograph, often doing things that I would have never normally done before if I wanted to take a picture of myself. I often consider myself as a blank canvas through which I can, using props, costumes, location, lighting, etc., tell any story I like.
One of the things that I have learnt through self-portraits is there are some downsides, which are not all that bad and easily to get around.
The first, and most common, is fear. I have spoken to a few friends who also shoot self-portraits which are amazing but they are afraid to put them online and show them to other people because they don’t want to be judged as self-obsessed or narcissistic. I think that this is both sad and silly. The harsh fact is that we live in a world where we are all judged and judge others. You may be thinking that you don’t judge anyone but the simple act of saying whether you think a photograph is good or bad is judging as you are evaluating what it means to you.
Another downside to self-portraits are that they can be tricky to shoot. If you think about the layout of a camera, it is not designed for the photographer to be both behind and in front of the camera at the same time. Sure, there is the 10 second self-timer but if you are shooting with a 50mm lens, you’re going to have run a fair distance to get into the frame of the shot, let alone strike a pose.

The good thing is that there are ways around this. You could buy a (wireless) remote for your camera, which will allow you to stand in front of it and shoot images without pressing the shutter. I own an awesome remote (which wasn’t expensive but not really cheap depending on your income) for around £20 that allows you to shoot up to 100 metres away from the camera. (In some cases it also lets you shoot through walls and doors!) This is great as it means that I don’t have to worry that my remote won’t be picked up by the camera or that I am too far for the remote to work.
As for the camera itself, you are able to buy cameras such as the Canon 60D (which is what I mainly use. I have no idea if Nikon have brought out something similar as I only use Canon) that have a flip screen which allows you to face the screen of the camera towards the model. This means that if you are in front of the camera, you are able to see yourself and how the image will look (which depends on if you are looking at the camera for the image).
All in all, I enjoy taking self-portraits as it makes me use my imagination by deciding how I am going to create a story in one image. I strongly feel that all photographers should, at some point in their career, create a series of self-portraits, even if it something that they never show anyone. It really does teach you a lot about yourself!
Here are some of my favourite self-portrait artists (a lot of which who have moved onto different forms of photography):

Miss Aniela
Lucia Holm
Brooke Shaden
Alex Stoddard
Sarah Ann Loreth
Caryn Drexl
Ashley Joncas

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