Part 3 – Project 1 Autobiographical self-portraiture

Exercise

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

Francesca Woodman

Look up Francesca Woodman’s images on-line. What evidence can you find for Bright’s analysis?

“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.” (Bright, 2010, p25)

In Auto Focus: The Self-Portrait in Contemporary Photography Bright briefly reflects on the image From Space²  by Woodman. In the self portrait I can see Woodman (at least I can assume it is her, I can’t see her face) stood naked with part of her legs and her face along with top half of her body covered by torn, flower patterned wallpaper, as if she is trying to disappear within the very fabric of the room. As Bright explains Woodman’s naked body seems to stand out more than disappear.

I reflected quite a bit in Expressing Your Vision on Francessa Woodman. It’s really sad that she committed suicide, her photography is incredible. I feel I can relate to her photography. I have always thought there are places you can go in life and if you choose to explore them, open those doors, you can’t undo it, once you have opened your mind to certain things you can’t close it again, you are either enlightened or forever damaged by what you awaken.

In many of Woodman’s photographs she is naked, with blurred motion and mirrors used as reflection, for me her work explores the spaces in between spaces, between this world and another deep spiritual place. I don’t mean in any strictly religious sense of the word, just maybe trapped in space and time, surreal.  Her images are in worn, derelict spaces, once lived in but long forgotten, perhaps a reflection on her own state of mind. The use of mirrors in her Self-deceit series is clearly extremely important in her work, sometimes she is in front of the mirror, to the side and even behind the mirror. The mirror, like the reflection of ourself in water provides us with a copy of ourselves and raises questions about the self, in some instances I think it could raise questions of vanity but I don’t feel that’s the case in Woodman’s photography. I feel it adds a high level of purposeful psychological tension.

I think the best reference I have found to explain all of this is in Photography: The Whole Story (page 469) where Hacking explains how Woodman read Marcel Proust and referencing a quote from In Search of Lost Time, fifth volume:

‘A person, scattered in space and time…no longer a woman but a series of events on which we can throw no light, a series of insoluble problems.’

Elina Brotherus

I viewed the Annonciation series by Elina Brotherus on-line; very powerful photography.  With the written text at the start of the series I feel it really provides the viewer with a good starting point to delve into the imagery, without it I think it would be hard to get a firm footing to start from.

I feel a longing in her photographs, that longing for a child. I can feel the pain, the loneliness, frailty, despair, sadness, it seeps through the frame and touches my heart. I want to give her a hug! This feels honest to me, brutally honest.

I feel she has really captured raw, honest, emotion within the series over a number of years which is hard to do without it feeling contrived or forced.

Gillian Wearing

As I mention below I don’t feel an awful lot towards the Album series by Gillian Wearing, the use of masks to recreate family images just doesn’t really interest me very much. I can understand the concept of exploring who you have become as a person through the links and influences of your family members but I don’t personally feel a connection with the work. It could be I just have a different outlook on life, which is totally fine.

“The mask acted as a disguise but also as a metaphorical device that helped her to examine her family through photography” (page 155, Bright, Susan 2010. Auto Focus: The Self-Portrait in Contemporary Photography)

I find this work was probably an interesting personal voyage of discovery for the photographer but I don’t feel a connection with it.

How do these images make you feel?

I find some of the images a little disturbing. When the spotlight is focused inwards sometimes some pretty dark stuff comes out. I guess I am a little afraid of turning the focus on me in this section of the course as I’m not too sure how far down the rabbit hole I really want to go or how much of myself I want to show.

I feel sadness when I look at Woodman’s photographs and I am deeply interested in her photography.

I think Wearings’s Album series is clever and an interesting way to reflect on self portraiture through the use of masks of family members, are we just a mix of our parents and family? I find it interesting but if I’m honest I don’t particularly feel anything emotionally when I look at the photographs, I’m not too sure why that is.  Maybe on a different day I would feel something but I don’t today. I think it could be the masks.

In regards to Brotherus, I feel she is exposing her vulnerabilities, she is putting herself into her imagery.  I feel a connection with her as a human being and her honesty. I empathise.

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

I don’t really think any of these photographers are displaying inflated egos or vanity, you could be critical and say there is an element of narcissism but I think its more about exploration and trying to find out more about yourself, more than the surface layer. When you want to photograph someone, who is the one person you can always rely on to be around to photograph? Yourself. Maybe that’s why a lot of introverted photographers look towards themselves to photograph.

What’s the significance of Brotherus’s nakedness?

For me it displays raw openness and vulnerability, like the vulnerability of a new born child born into the world, naked and defenceless.  The image Annonciation 4 with what initially suggests a shadow figure reflected in a mirror, could be suggesting the unknown father but not a loving father figure, it has a sinisterness to the image. On closer inspection you can see its a poster with the figure facing away.

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

I think in this instance the text really lends to the imagery. The accompanying text to Annonciation provides the background behind the images, leaving the viewer to explore and interpret their deeper meaning. I also think it sometimes depends on how well you can or can’t read an image as an individual but a good image should, to some extent, speak for itself.

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

Absolutely, I think they all are.  I also think its subjective as to how how important those issues are to you as an individual, your own life experiences and what matters to you. If I am particularly interested in an issue I may look for deeper meaning. I think each observer may see or look for different meanings. This could be as simple as whether you are a man or a woman for instance looking at these images.

References:

Bright, S 2010. Auto Focus: The Self-Portrait in Contemporary Photography. 0 Edition. Thames & Hudson Ltd.
Bright, S 2011. Art Photography Now (Second Edition). 2 Edition. Thames & Hudson.
Hacking,  J 2012. Photography: The Whole Story. 0 Edition. Thames & Hudson Ltd.
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