Exercise: Self-Absented Portraiture

Go to the artist’s website and look at the other images in Shafran’s series.

You may have noticed that Washing-up is the only piece of work in Part Three created by a man. It is also the only one with no human figures in it, although family members are referred to in the captions.

  • Did it surprise you that this was taken by a man? Why?
  • In your opinion does gender contribute to the creation of an image?
  • What does this series achieve by not including people?
  • Do you regard them as interesting ‘still life’ compositions?Make some notes in your learning log.

Copyright Nigel Shaffran

Nigel Shaffran, a trained comercial and fashion photographer has produced a range of work that explores aspects of his and his wife’s  personal life. There is something of the biographical in his work ‘Washing up’ but  also an element of exploring or finding meaning in the mundane. By using his camera to focus on one small aspect of his life he sets out to reveal something wider. At this stage i am still trying to read these images but i must say I was immediately struck by the technical quality of the work in terms of composition framing , balance and visual interest. i was left with a sneeze of some staging and arrangement because there is something visually satisfying about the work.


Copyright Nigel Shaffran

This approach isn’t new to Shaffran and he has developed this approach in other works such as Compost Pictures (2008-9) images of a small pot on the sink work surface where discarded vegetation is put prior i assume to bing dispatched to a compost heap. here are constants in the images, the pot, the sink and the wall. each image has new and different colourful waste matiear and ahgain out of the mundane there is something peculiarly engaging. An earlier work Suburban garaged 2001


Copyright Nigel Shaffran

Did it surprise you that this was taken by a man? Why?

It didn’t and to be frank the question suprised me more and seemed to be rooted in notions of gender stereotypes about the kitchen, washing up and traditional but outdated gender roles. I have been bright up in a culture where cooking and washing up are the work of the entire family and find the notion of this type of activity being linked to a specific genre, with alien and ancient. Whilst I acknowledge that gender and its attendant biographical experience will shape the photographers viewpoint, this seemed a clumsy question.

In your opinion does gender contribute to the creation of an image?

A photographers life experiences, their training and their artistic intentions all shape an artists outcome. Gender is clearly a dimension of experience and there will be a trace of that experience in an artists work. In my view it may be subtle in some instances and very apparent in other. This in my view will be a function of artistic internet, where the artists is them selves making a choice to make genre more explicit in the work. It will be far more about seeding an intent than the tyranny of historic gender roles and expectation.

What does this series achieve by not including people?

The absence of people is an artistic choice but also one that I think adds to these works. The sharp and clear focus on space, environment and the unmistakable traces of human activity and existence all point to people, without revealing them. It is a very different approach to the traditional portrait and I imagine this oblique and abstract approach makes theviewr ask questions an fill in the blanks about whose kitchen this is. Indeed by revisiting the same space and making a range of work i that space, the view is given information in increments, that it might be argued reveal more and more about an individual, but always keeping some aspects illusive. There is a constructed paradox that simultaneously reveals but keep opaque the hidden subject in then work. I have to say i was left intrigued by the work

Do you regard them as interesting ‘still life’ compositions?

When looking at the work of Shaffran I was most struck by the technical quality of the work. The very sharp and balanced composition of the work , the framing and the lines that run through the work. For example the line of the window from running with precision in parallel to the farm of the camera. Whether you like the images or not they stood out to me as the work of a skilled photographer. The light too, work well with excellent control of shadows and a real sense of natural light. I was reminded of section o Bergers (1977) Ways of Seeing, Chapter 5 that dealt wit oil paintings in the renaissance and in particular the use of painting to exhibit wealth and possessions. Berger refers to the vower seeing something about individuals lives but the owner being absent. Although quite different, given Shaffran has chosen a much more mundane subject than the oil painting Berger is referencing, I was struck by the parallels in the notion objects revealing more than merely their form and placement.


Shaffran, N Website, found at: nigel shaffran (Accessed November 2016)

Berger, J (1972) Ways of Seeing, Penguin, London


Self Absented Portraiture- Some thoughts

This section of the reading as posed some interesting and challenging ideas, indeed notions of the portray, the role of the photograph and the photographer appear to be far more tenuous. Although I have much uncertainty, such challenge to the orthodox are helpful and although I struggled with some of the work referred to in this section, it is all part of the learning journey.

Sophie Calle’s ‘Take care of yourself ‘ felt more autobiographical, although the idea of a third party or proxy standing in for the subject does I think extend the concept of the self portrait. This is an abstract idea and in thinking about the traditional definitions of the portrait, this work seems to be at the margins of the genre.

Reviewing the work of Kapajeva, in particular ‘A portrait of the artists a young women’ did shed some helpful insight into the idea of the self absented portrait. Originally from Estonia and a photographers who has explored a variety of themes relating to women, identity and migration. This work explores women with whom the artist identifies and feels some link. in this sense the portrait is more about capturing strength, experience and biography that might say something about the photographer as an individual but traits and similarities seen in others. Again there is something of the abstract about this approach and  I am still thinking through the implications and meamning of this work and this approach to the portrait. Lots of ideas though for a more oblique presentation for my next assignment.


Copyright Maria Kapajeva


Kapajeva, M. -Portrait of the artist as a young woman found at: http://www.europeanprospects.org/maria-kapajeva/portrait-artist-young-woman ( Accessed November 2016)

Exercise- Recreate a childhood memory in a photograph

Recreate a childhood memory in a photograph. Think carefully about the memory you choose and how you’ll recreate it. You’re free to approach this task in any way you wish.

  • Does the memory involve you directly or is it something you witnessed?
  • Will you include your adult self in the image (for example, to ‘stand in’ for your childhood self ) or will you ask a model to represent you? Or will you be absent from the image altogether? (You’ll look at the work of some artists who have chosen to depict some aspect of their life without including themselves in the image in the next project.)
  • Will you try and recreate the memory literally or will you represent it in a more metaphorical way, as you did in Part Two?
  • Will you accompany your image with some text?
  • In your learning log, reflect on the final outcome. How does the photograph resemble your memory? Is it different from what you expected? What does it communicate to the viewer? How?

It might be interesting to show your photograph to friends or family members – perhaps someone who was there at the time and someone who wasn’t – and see what the image conveys to them.

I thought long and hard about this exercise and again probably spent too much time overthinking it. Childhood memory is a vast and complex subject and I started with a sense of this is just too big to think about!

I am also aware from my own professional life that memory is a malleable and plastic construct, where what is remembered is not necessarily what happened or what was.

A simple example is revisiting a childhood haunt  (as I did in the preperation for the previous assignment) and when confronted with space and place  it is often not how it we recalled it, indeed it can be very different. Over time memory shifts and what we think we recall changes.  There are a variety  of reasons for this and I could write a whole assignment on just this topic. There are differing schools of thought about cognitive development in children and the attendant development of memory function in all its forms. Piaget is often cited  when considering the children’s cognitive development, suggesting development of cognition occurs in a number of sequential stages, each dependent upon the last . A child, from its infant stage moves from the concrete, learning through repetition until they move to the more abstract level of thinking. Essential to the process is the assimilation and accommodation of the new. It is through this latter process that memory can become mailable and flexible in order to accommodate new and different thinking. This casts a shadow over the reliability of what we think of as a childhood memory.  Although a differing approach to Piaget concerning cognitive development in children, Bruner (quoted in Turner 1980) suggests that learning and memory are created through serially ordered routines that serve the purpose of developing cognitive structure but through the process memory can become fragmented and flexible and by default unreliable.

What does all of this mean and why have I included it? Well in short  I have limited reliability on what I recall from childhood and as already stated what I remember may not be what actually occurred. That said and I guess the point of this work in the course photographs can assist in partially in filling gaps, although they also present challenge in terms of objectivity. The reliability of supposed factual images is a well covered area in the literature. I wrote about this in my Expressing Your Vision course  here .

I revisited the work of Trish Morrissey as part of the reading for this exercise. It struck me that by recreating family images in her ‘Seven Years’ project, she was revisiting a memory, false or otherwise. The images she made by deploying traditional family photograph tropes, manifest as  ‘meticulous mimicking’, might also offer a representation or revisiting of a memory. It was this idea that became the catalyst for my work on this exercise.

This might seem an interesting approach given  I have no photographs from my childhood. Ironic as my father was a keen photographer, but my sister took all of his photographs many years ago and they have since been lost in house moves. The inevitable  fate perhaps for many collections family photogtraphs from a pre social media/ computer age, when an image was also an artefact with substance.

I decided to call both my brother and sister (we all live in different parts of the UK) and talk to them about family photographs and memories they had of them as a trigger for a potential subject. I asked them both the same pre prepared questions:

  1. What is the family photograph you have the strongest memory about?
  2. What is the family photograph you  have the strongest memory of with me in it?

I had interesting and nostalgic conversations with both of my siblings and we talked about many events long forgotten. To the second question though they both made reference to an image I had forgotten about entirely, but an event I had remembered.

An image of me as a 10 year old with a large and then antique  bicycle. As a 10 year old I had spotted a bicycle for sale in the local newsagents notice board. I desperately wanted a bike and my parents couldn’t afford one. When I saw the advert for a bicycle for just £1 I was drawn by the price and not the detail. The bike turned out to be a very old, three geared ladies  bicycle  from a bygone era, it had certainly seen better days. It was orange from its paint and just as orange from the rusty chrome. That said I still bought it with my cash. The year was 1971 and the £1 was all my worldly resources. I can remember the pride I had in owning this huge orange rusty machine, with  rod linked brakes and non functioning Sturmey Archer 3 speed hub gears. When I got it home my father at first laughed but then assisted me in repairing  the brakes, cleaning and lubricatiing the ancient drive mechanism and even repairing the gears. My mother, a nobel prize winning worrier, expressed concern about the scale of the machine and all the potential dangers I might confront if I took to the road on this antique! I rode that bike for two years and although it solicited a degree of derision from others it was for a time my pride and joy. It also perhaps had a part to play in my lifelong love of cycling.  None of my family could remember what happened to the photograph my father took of me with the bike, but we all remembered it, all be it slightly differently. I was standing holding the bike, with pride in front of a large hedge . I can still visualise (to an extent) the square colour image.

During my discussion with my siblings it was clear we all had slightly different memories of the photograph and me and the bike. My brother remembered the white mudguards , my sister the location of the photograph of me and the bike and I could remember the colour image that was for a while in a Clarkes children’s shoe box of photos kept in the kitchen of the house we grew up in , long since sold now. From the discussions though we were all unanimous about the pride I had for this somewhat odd machine. That was the meaning and memory tied up with the long lost photograph and that distant shutter click in time all those years ago.

I decided to recreate a similar scene but a contemporary version with the same pride at its heart. The image I produced was about the pride and excitement I still get from cycling and owning a two wheeled machine ( of which I now have possibly far too many).

Making the Image

In making the image I considered making it on film and digital and given my ‘time poor’ status in the end used a digital camera to produce the final image I selected. I did also make two images on a square format film camera with a view to adding this to the blog when developed. I used a lens on a crop sensor digital camera that would equate the to  75mm standard lens of my fathers twin lens reflex  6×6 camera  that which almost certainly would have been the instrument used to make the long lost image that spurred the idea for this image. I also toyed with some processing in in Lightroom to shift the colour of the image but in the end went with an out of the camera colour image of the final section. I was trying recruit a memory after all an not a photograph


Selecting a final image.

I made a number of images in what from recall, with all the caveats mentioned above,  was in the bright sunlight. I was less interested in the technicalities of this work but more a mood and feeling. I think in many respects the image I remember became a catalyst for a memory. One which was augmented through the conversations I had with my siblings about an event  long ago. At 10 I was just finishing at Primary school and soon to go the high school, three bus journeys away. This was an important transition point in my life, feeling more grown up and on the point of entering into the new world of secondary school and all that entitled. In this sense my memory of this image was about so much more than a rusty old bygone bicycle.



Reflections on the final image

I’m not often in images and am more commonly behind the camera. As a 50 something there are many years of this scenario and I did ponder on the power of the camera to cloak and hide the photographer. I suspect that as a keen amateur image maker there are many others like me for whom the camera has been a place to avoid being in photographs. That has been the challenge and interest in this whole section of the course, which in all frankness challenges the notion of the photographer being the person who releases the shutter. Morrissey, Lee, Sherman, Goldin, to name just a few photographers explored over the last weeks are all well known for their self portraits in which essentially some one else chooses the instant to press the shutter button. The photographer in the context of their work is the creator of the image and the person releasing the shutter is reduced to the status of a technician, supporting the photographer in reading their vision. The learning from this exercise is quite abstract and has set me thinking about a different concept of the photographer, but most of all the notion of memory, its limited reliability and with it our tennis link to eat we believe is our past. For all of these reasons i chose not to captain the image and at this stage in th course whilst i might frame an image or set of images (as i have done in assignments 1 and 2) with some context setting text, my image remain un captioned.

So for this image I captured a new version of an old memory, I tried to express a sense of pride, but without the beaming smile. Why? My brother and sisters memories of this event, although slightly different were entirely congruent in one thing, I never smiled in this or any other family picture of myself


Turner, J. (1981) Cognitive Development, Methuen London

Beard, R. (1980) An outline of Piaget’s Developmental Psychology, Rutledge London

Trish Morrissey works found at: http://www.trishmorrissey.com/index.html (accessed October 2016)

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

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

Self Portraiture – some further thoughts

“It’s about the messages in the narrative and what they say, rather than the subject in the frame!”

The term self-portraiture did conjure up for me something a little self-indulgent, not necessarily narcissistic but some that was intrinsically about self. I think this conception had been reinforced by the [torrent of ‘selfies’ on social media but also the transition into wider culture of the notion of the selfie. By this I mean that even though I am only a partial user of social media the selfie is now part of the experience of being out in the world. On a recent visit to Cambridge there were more tourists taking selfies than there were tourists tank photographs of the environment.


Indeed the selfie as the popular manifestation of the self portraits has become ubiquitous.

It was therefore very good to read the material in part two of the of the Context and Narrative module which sheds a somewhat different light on the use of the self portrait. Rather than self absorbtion I can now see that the self portraiture, beyond being an easy and reliable source for the photographer , it can tell of bigger things. I was very much struck in particle by the work of Brotherus and the rich narrative around loss, strength and how people can move on. Morrissey’s exploration of the genre of the family photograph, which like the contemporary selfie has a specific and repeatable formulea, can be a vehicle to explore the nature of relationships . Perhaps most starkly is Sherman’s work. Her iconic film like images are instantly recognisable stereotypes of female figures, suggesting a social construct n of the feminine image and persona, raising issues about control and influence and how images in contemapary culture may have a darker implication.

In an oblique form of exploration the self portrait can be as revealing as the documentary  photographer when distilled down to the message in the narrative and the thoughts and ideas  engendered  in the viewer. I’ll return to this theme again as I move through to the next exercise.



Project 2 Masquerades Exercise 1

Is there any sense in which Lee’s work could be considered voyeuristic or even exploitative? Is she commenting on her own identity, the group identity of the people she photographs, or both?

I don’t feel that that Lee’s work is that of a voyeur. Voyeurism needs something of the sordid and scandalous i believe and her work does not meet the test of r such an accusation. It is explorative and it does rely on a degree of intrusion. I am uncertain the degree to which she shared her motives with the other people in her images but even if she didn’t i don’t think there intended exploitation. Her exploration requires something of engagement and participation in order for the work to have meaning. i reminded of the ‘participant observer’ in social research and the immersive sort of research undertaken by students trying to understand a subculture from the inside. 

Her work does raise ethical questions and there are questions I suppose about whether such a project would get the the ethccs committee of a university if someone wanted to infiltrate a group in order to understand it more. There is also no sense of harm to the other in the image, even they they are not aware of the nature of Lee’s interloper position.

Whilst the work is about identity i think Lee is trading who she is to be part of a subculture and as such the work focuses more on the values, clothes and culture of that group. It might even be argued that she is forfeiting her own identity in order to make this work. That raises questions about the boundaries of who she is and who she is observing and the bias that is inevitable when observing others. It is impossible to escape the lens of our own biography, conditioning and experience,

Would you agree to Morrissey’s request if you were enjoying a day on the beach with your family? If not, why not?

This is a really tough question. I think knowing that someone was an artists exploring a creative endeavour i would be quite willing to engage in this art work. But that is on the basis that I am a creative too and would have some natural affinity with the intention. In my own art practice which involves taking pictures of starters, i carry one or more photo books of my work with my equipment for those tricky moments when people ask what am I doing. the phonebook can be a saving factor in some tricky conversations. sadly there is a developing suspicion about people in the street with a camera!

Morrissey uses self-portraiture in more of her work, namely Seven and The Failed Realist. Look at these projects online and make some notes in your learning log.

I really like the work of Trish Morrissey, in part because she is using the role of the outsider to look in on others worlds and come to some view about this. I had come across her work: Ten People in a Suitcase.

Inspired by an archive of 30,00 images of people and places in the Finnish town on Mantta, Morrissey has remade images of a number of characters in the original images. She has used techniques and styles that captures something about people that would otherwise have been anonymous. as with much of her work she is the subject and this creates a common thread though the work. I find it strangely engaging, slightly humours but above all melancholic, she has captured the passing of time and the work says something about the forgotten and the mundane. individuals lives are important to us all but time marches on and we are then forgotten. This works captures long past moment in time and says something more that n merely a statement about the individual in the image. it talks of the transience of life and the passage of time waiting for no one. She uses colour in particular to create a sense of a particular time.


Copyright Trish Morrissey

In the image above she has remerging a moment from an adult education class about art with the teacher Ritta Ranta being played by her. This moment long past is part of the history of the town, but until this rework was entirely forgotten. The image asks the viewer to imagine Ritta’s life what happened before and after the image and where she is now? In short we are requested with that which we have forgotten.

Seven Years is perhaps a prelude to the next exercise on the course. Morrissey looks at the style and orthodoxy of the family photographs. there are common themes in family picture that transcend time and culture . Morrissey mimics images from her own families album, acting as the creator of a new revised seen, her own websites says that the work:

‘aims to deconstruct the trope of family photography by meticulously mimicking it’

All of the images in the set are well crafted to replicate an event from the past, captured in the photos of the family album. There are well defined and replicated approaches that Morrissey showcases though the work. The viewer has to make some assumptions but the titles guide some of the thinking. Morose plays a role in them all. I was particularly struck by the image below which i think must be her as an infant just born or soon after. She plays the role of her father in this classic style of family image.


Copyright Trish Morrissey

The Failed Realist is a very different piece of work to the other sets I looked at. The title is based upon the work of Psychologist Georges-Henri Luquet. Considering the developmental stages of children, Luquet suggests that the failed realist stage was when a child could not produce art or creative work that met their own expectations . Verbal skills being developed before the fine motor control required to draw and paint. Let many artists would seek to regain some of the un contaminated thugs and ideas of childhood in their own work. reflecting on a creative purity exorcised over time .

In this work Morrissey’s daughter  paints her mother’s face with themes  based upon s films and books she has seen or has had read to her. There is a simple innocence to the work, but it is the photographers own car that is the canvass for her daughters cartoons. Of all of her works I found this the hardest to read . The common themes of the outsiders and the interloper I found less present in this work.


Copyright Trish Morrissey


Trish Morrissey works found at: http://www.trishmorrissey.com/index.html (accessed October 2016)

Project 2 – Masquerades

Of all the self portrait work discussed to date, the idea of masquerades really caught my interest and I have spent some time reading about and looking at the images of the artists referenced in the text. I have also followed further references and considered the work of several other artists who are working in this area. I will start by saying something about this work and then draw together my thoughts and learning from reviewing this work.

Nikki Seung -Hee Lee

Nikki S. Lee (b 1970) is a Korean born photography who based in New York but now works in Seoul whose work takes the notion of the artist as the subject to an all together different dimension than the artists i have written about earlier in this section. Indeed considering her work I have to ask myself is she a photographer or performance artist with the latter winning out. Her approach is to assume the identity of different characters, dressing up as them and then playing their role in the world at large. In this work she takes on both the individual identity of the character she is playing, but also participates in the group identity in which her character would exist. She then asks an onlooker to make an image. The work includes her playing the role of a tourist, someone at a wedding, a jogger and a bride. One of the edgiest and most risky , by her own admission was playing the role of an exotic dance. I was also struck by the idea of paradox and irony in some of the work, like the image below where she is a character in this image?


Copyright Nikk Sueng-Hee Lee

Her work explores identity at a number of levels  and not just from the characters  point of view but also from the group perspective. There is something about the exploration of subculture and the images reveal more than just the character she is assuming. This work and the ideas behind it appealed to my interest in culture and the social construction of meaning. The performance nature of Lee’s work demonstrates the power of an image beyond a conventional story telling narrative and offers some insight into decoding ideas about the post modern narrative. Boothroyd (2015) suggests that Lee’s work questions the reliability of the photograph as a record. My view is that this has always been in question, what Lee does for me is raise questions about how a fictional narrative might reveal trust in the way a pure record of an event might not. in this sense the idea of documentary photography is challenged. I am also reminded of the reading earlier in the program about authorship and the death of the author. I will return to this themes later in my conclusions

Trish Morrissey

Trish Morrisey (b1967) is an Irish born artists who has also explored the idea of identity through constructed scenes and images. She has done  this through a novel and confident approach. In her work front (front referring to the sea front, although to me its alternative colloquial meaning of cheeky confidence also perhaps applies to her approach)  she visited  beaches around England and also in Australia ( while she had a residency there). Approaching family groups on the beach she requested that she swopped clothes with the main female figure in the family group and replaced them in a fictional scene that is then photographed by the person she has replaced. This must have taken some nerve and I can only imagine her level of self confidence. The images are strangely beguiling and there is strong sense of smooth ng natural but also unnerving. She is simulation and gust and interloper, a cuckoo in the nest, literally. Like  Nikki S. Lee, she forms part of a wider seen although she is perhaps more obvious in the scene because she is not as disguised as Lee is in her work. As well as exploring identity this work considers boundaries and to me asks questions about a families dynamics and relationships. The work is simultaneously engaging and a bit disturbing. Also like Lee’s work it rises questions about authorship and perhaps shed light on a postmodern narrative in which meaning is created through thinking about the fiction it creates. Cotton (2014) suggests that this type of approach:

‘rather than being evidence of the photographs originality (or lack of it) or statement of authorial intention, photographs were seen  as signs that acquired their significance of value from their place within a larger system of social and cultural coding”


 This really helpful statement leads me to ask about the family photograph and its importance and meaning. The images with Morrissey as the interloper or imposter, still have a strong sense of the family group to the viewer that doesn’t know the family in the picture and are still valid examples of that trope. I think it is this that made this work so attractive to me. there is a cultural coding built into this type of image because they are so much part of family life. Morris test this coding by replacing a key element but the code rains as strong as ever.


Copyright Trish Morrissey

Yasumasa Morimura

Working in this similar genre of mascara ad and mimicry the Japanese born artist Yasumasa Morimura (b1951) has created a series of self portraits that parody western art. His eastern eye brings a critical outsiders view and I am uncertain of there is a degree of mockery  as part of his mmimicary. Cotton (2014) refers to his experiments with the malleability of identity and this can be seen in his portraits. It is however the overt parody that stands out to me in this work . The image below perhaps typifies the point I am trying to make. Mimicking  an american icon, Murimura as Marilyn Monroe is both parody and humour. The image is clearly not Monroe, but it has features of Monroeness’, that are recognisable, beacusue Monroe is such an icon, her lines has become a recognisable cultural code. , Murimura is playing this back to the viewer. There is fiction and truth in the image


Copyright Yasumasa Morimura

Cindy Sherman

In researching the genre of the self portraiture in photography Cindy Sherman’s (b 1954) name is a recurrent theme. Sherman has used herself as the object for her work over many projects. Her series of self portraits that were based upon and inspired by moments from american cinema attest the the iconography of american cinema and how these have passed into a common cultural awareness. Replicating scene from  cinema, Sherman captures something of time and culture. At the same time the images can be larger than life with an extreme empathise on makeup and features. There is something of parody rather than homage. Cotton (2014) suggests that Sherman’s work, Untitletled Film Stills is:

a demonstration of the argument advanced by feminist theory the ‘femininity’is a construction of cultural codes and not a quality that is naturally inherent or essential to women. 


With this in mind Sherman’s self portraits far from being studies of different selves are far more about how society assigns attributes based upon appearance, gender and culture. This opens a new and interesting area to consider the value of the image as a representation of how culture is constructed and not just a story narrative.

Final thoughts

It’s is hard to summarise the learning from considering masquerades, but what I can say is that my ideas about the purpose and nature of images and their meaning has been expanded. Through replication and mimicry all of the above artists are commenting not just on culture and identity but also how the visual codes create wider understanding.

There are also some interesting  ideas about authorship in this work and I am reminded about the earlier coursework about the death of the author and the post modern non linear narrative. In all of these works the artists have constructed the images but they not the photographer.  Or are they?  Questions are raised about who is the photographer. In a modernist critique it is perhaps the person pushing the shutter release, not so in a postmodern interpretation.

All of the artist above have something to say about intent being beyond the domain of the photographer too. There is something beyond the contents of the from of the image that purposefully allows the viewer  considerable latitude in their interpretaion of the image. These are examples of a postmodern critique and a postmodern view of photography as a medium. I am of course merely scratching the surface of what feels more like an exploration of the construction of meaning in the world about us than it does an interpretation of images. I will need to reflect more upon this, but this is very different territory to the ideas I wrote about when considering documentary narratives!


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

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

Kino, C. (2006) Now in Moving Pictures: The Multitudes of Nikki S. Lee, New York Times found at: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/10/01/arts/design/01kino.html?ex=1317355200&en=ba68cca87c7383c1&ei=5088&partner=rssnyt&emc=rss&_r=0 (Accessed October 2016)

Nikki S. Lee: The Creators Project found at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oI8xpJItPVI (Accessed October 2016)

Phillips, S. (2013) Trish Morrissey’s best photograph: infiltrating a family on a Kent beach, Guardian, found at:http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2013/jan/23/trish-morrissey-best-shot (Accessed October 2016)

Morimura-Yasumasa found at: http://www.britannica.com/biography/Morimura-Yasumasa (Accessed October 2016)

Exercise- Autobiographical self portraiture 1

Reflect on the pieces of work discussed in this project in your learning log and do some further research of your own.

Here are a few questions you might ask yourself:

How do these images make you feel?
Do you think there’s an element of narcissism or self-indulgence in focusing on your own identity in this way?
What’s the significance of Brotherus’s nakedness?
Can such images ‘work’ for an outsider without accompanying text?
Do you think any of these artists are also addressing wider issues beyond the purely personal?

Make some notes in your learning log.

How do these images make you feel?

All of the images are thought provoking and all take a different level of decoding. They all demonstrate the power of the artist as the subject o the work but they do this in different ways. I still find Woodman’s work the darkest but that is perhaps because I see them in the context of her troubled life and ultimate suicide. I am perhaps looking for allusions to this in the work. All her simultaneously confident and even exhibitionist, but also disturbing. They are  the most dynamic of all the works. the slow shutter images give a sense of motion and things changing. 

The work of Brotherus seems far more staged and planned, although that is a perception on my part rather than an objective fact. There is a clear  sense of planning and an ongoing theme running through the work that tells of reflection through self. To me there is a more evident thought process behind the images I reviewed and there is also a sense of an ongoing engagement with her self as the subject in order to explore the world.

Wearings work is disturbing to but in a different and actually quite a positive way. the idea of literally getting inside your family is a genuinely innovative one that set me thinking about my relationships with family. As stated, all very positively thought provoking. It did make me think about ways i might include myself in images that say something about my family and my place in it!

Do you think there’s an element of narcissism or self-indulgence in focusing on your own identity in this way?

I really pondered on the idea of narcissism t when  I first looked at the work, but quickly came to the conclusion the were not. Nor was any of the work self indulgent. Experimental, self focused and very personally confident yes, but not self centred in anyway. To me narcissism is rooted in some sense of self love and that is not what these works are about. In these works the self and the self portrait are vehicles to explore, thought and feelings, the family, the self and the world around the artist. I also ned to say although perhaps a bit overs simplistic, these works are well beyond the notion of the selfie which is so much part of contemporary culture.

What’s the significance of Brotherus’s nakedness?

I asked my self would the images work with the artist clothed and my genuine answer is that i don’t know. Her nakedness points at a vulnerability but also an honesty, literally bearing all. The theme of motherhood, IVF and the sadness of not being able to conceive a child are all supported by her nakedness and the works are not sexual in nature. The nakedness I guess confronts the subject and makes a statement to view. That said I still ponder on whether other images could create the same narrative?

Can such images ‘work’ for an outsider without accompanying text? 

I have really pondered on this too, particularly in relation  to Brotherus’s work. I have come to the conclusion that some text is required to make sense of the work and to be able to gain insight into the artist motivation. Whilst and outsider will bring some of their own interpretation, an artist’s statement of intent at some level is needed to really reveal what is at the heart of the work. There is a question about how much text is required and I have grappled with this dime in my own work. 

Do you think any of these artists are also addressing wider issues beyond the purely personal?

There is a resounding yes to this question for all of the artists. Woodman’s explores the possibilities of identities, of expression through self and ideas about emotion and even mental health. I suspect also she was creating work to communicate rather than to look inward. Brotherus is engaging with a range of contempaosry them about being a women anbaout displacement in place and about motherhood and IVF. All resonate with wider thoughts about the human  condition. She is wanting to make wider connections and her work asks questions about how we see ourselves and how we are seen. Similar is true of Wearing, her work seems to try and reveal something quite personal that asks questions about our place in our families, of inheritance and most of all who we are and where we come from. All of this work offer the possibility of understanding the  world around us in different and quite innovative ways.


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


Putting yourself in the picture- some initial thoughts


I must confess to feeling more than a little uncomfortable reading through this section of the course! I thought I should share some of my thoughts about this as I begin part three of the module.

I do recognise the ideas set out in the opening page of part three. There is clearly a strong and well established tradition of the artist making themselves the object of their own work. Earlier in the year I attended the excellent Alberto Giacometti- A line through time show, in which one of my favourite works was a self portrait painted by the artist as a young man. It was more than just an image of himself, the paintings rich use of colours and sculptural, heavy and thick brush strokes said something about Giacometti beyond the likeness that the painting contained. In this image I could see the power of the self portrait as a statement about an artist. Giacometti made many self portraits through his life and to my still perhaps naive eye, this works plot a set of helpful markers about style and approach through the differing phases of his work


I have also seen many photographers using self portraiture as a theme for their work, some I am sure I will cover as I work through this part of the course. Cindy Sherman, Francesca Woodman, Claud Cahun to name just a few  and all artists were there is s strong and personal narrative at the core of their.

All that said, I tend to hide behind the camera. In years of image making I  am the one missing in the thousands of images that plot my families life. In recent years I have experimented with shadow and reflection self portraits. I am concise though that this approach still retains a high level of anonymity. I think I will need to to move beyond this as I start this next part of the course.

More to follow but I have made a quick review  of some of my blog entries from my previous course.

Selected Reference

EYV blog entry about Claude Cahun Exhibition here