Exercise- Autobiographical self portraiture 1

Francesca Woodman’s (1958-1981) work evokes a range of thoughts an feelings. the somewhat ethereal black and white pictures, almost all of which contain the artist, present a confident and at times exhibitionist view of Woodman. I can see that there are themes such as gender and identity evident in the work, but to my relatively untrained eye there is also something of the troubled about them. The artists use of props to hide in ‘plain site’ in some of the images suggests something about anonymity too.

This notion is reinforced by many of the poses where the artists face in’t seen at all either because they are turned away or because there are obscured by an object of some sort. The use of a slow shutter exposures creates a ghost like presence in many of the images. Also the locations chosen for the staging of the images I googled appeared to be run down and defying old rooms/spaces, suggesting faded grandeur in decay.

I find much of the artist work quite dark and I think the elements described above suggest that I concur with Bright (2010) when she suggests the work alludes to a troubled state of mind. Reading about woodman reinforces this idea and she seems to have been a talent cut short by her suicide. I watched the film, the Woodmans and was  with an over whelming sense of a child that was bourne into a house with odd and self obsessed parents. Woodman’s art and untimely death raise some troubling questions about her family constellation. All o that said, her work appears to typify the idea of the artist being the subject of their own work and whether accurate or not , reviewing her images leaves me with a real sense of the artist as a troubled talent communicating something about the power of the image to reveal the soul of some one. And in Woodmans case lon after they have gone.


Copyright Francesca Woodman Estate

The first image I saw of Elina Brotherus’s  (b. 1972) work iI mistakenly took for an image by woodman. Although in colour, the nude and seemingly troubled pose in the image evoked many of the feelings I had looking at Woodman’s work. However as I looked at more of Brotherus’s work I saw something quite different. This work looks to be less dark, but none the less not without a sense of pain. There is also a real sense of the artist confidence, her face is also very prominent in many of the images. like Woodman there is a real sense of confidence in showing herself and some might also see something of the exhibitions about the work. There is something of the classical painting in some of her images and to me her interest in the painter and their model is evident in work such as the one below , where her gaze back at the camera is a gaze at herself as much as it is to an unseen audience. The best description of this artist biographical journey though images I found, was in her own words:

“I only can acknowledge that work follows life. I made autobiographical self-portraits in the very beginning of my career when still in art school. At that time I simultaneously finished my previous university studies of chemistry and my first marriage. It was a major liberation on all fronts and it had to become visible in my photography. Then, for ten years, I did other things – I was interested in painting, the way artists look at their models and how to represent this in a picture. I was using myself as a model but the photos didn’t talk about what was going on in my life. I was an image-maker, dealing with formal, visual and art-historical issues. Then I approached 40 and life got complicated and the autobiography sneaked in again. It wasn’t anything I planned but I didn’t push it back either. This is my strategy as an artist: to accept the pictures that need to happen”

Elina brotherus (2016)

I found it easier to find some recurring theme in Brotherus’s work. Whilst she is the subject, she is exploring ideas such as diverse and separate, sex, motherhood and IVF. I gained a real insight into her approach watching her discuss her work on the Louisiana Channel interview. I key bit of learning from this is caution in interpreting an image, as she said to some one asking her about the theme of her image ‘I don’t like sex’, her reply was simply ‘it’s only a photograph!” There is caution in this statement to the view about how much the images is about artistic exploration and how much is about the artists? In many respects this is more accessible work than that of Woodman because there is a clear descriptive narrative about motive and intent available when you search this arrest on line and in texts. What did Learn from it? Well common human themes can be encapsulated in single images, there is also a confidence that points to the recurring theme of liberation that i hard the artist comment upon in the Louisiana video and also the photographers gallery Interview. A further and  recurrent theme that struck me were the number with two people looking in different directions. there is something about relationships and separation in the work and I will continue to reflect on this as I move through part three.


Copyright Elina Brotherus

Gillian Wearing (b 1963) presents to me some markedly different work to the previous artists. Wearing is a Turner Prize winning artists and one of the YBAs who has used photography to explore ideas of identity and self. While hunting for references I came across her work from the early 1990’s where she photographed strangers in the street holding placards that made a statement about how they felt. The work titled: The Family. Signs that Say What You Want Them to Say and Not Signs that Say What Someone Else Wants You to Say (1992–3) in essence reveals what the the subjects of the images were thinking. This work was almost prescient about the social media age to come where people would share their inner thoughts with strangers through Facebook and other social media.

The work referenced in the course materials took a little understanding. Albums is a collection of recreated family  images found in albums. In each of the works Wearing creates a silicon mask of the family member, mother, father, sister, uncle. Wearing wears the mask to look like the family member in an earlier photo. The work is at first disconcerting because the edges of the masks and eyeholes of some of the masks are clearly visible, the work has a sort of unfinished , look with it being clear to a view that a mask is being worn. As Cotton (2014) suggests:

‘Wearing is literally trying on the identities of family members’  pp197

Exploring her place in her family through this project raises questions about families and relationships. Also, although the masks are artificial, they do point to the fact that the person behind the mask is linked through birth, blow and DNA to the subject they are mimicking. This is a complex work that takes the idea of the self portrait to a different conceptual level than the previous artists discussed


Adams, T. (2012) Gillian Wearing-“I have always been a bit of a  listener, The Guardian found at: http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2012/mar/04/gillian-wearing-whitechapel-gallery-feature (Accessed October 2016)

Boothroyd, S (2015) Context and Narrative, Open College of the Arts, Barnsley

Bright, S. (2010) Quoted in Boothroyd (2015)

Brotherus, E. ( 2016)  found at: http://www.elinabrotherus.com/bibliography/ (Accessed October 2016)

Brotherus, E. ( 2013) It’s not me, it’s a photograph, Louisiana Channel video found at https://vimeo.com/58005699 (Accessed October 2016)

Cotton, C. (2014) The Photograph as Contemporary Art, Thames and Hudson, London

Gillian Wearing takeover: behind themask – the Self Portraits



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s