Portraiture has existed since ancient times. It is an art form that lends itself to breaking or pushing the boundaries of reality as an artist can choose to represent themselves and their sitter in any way they choose. Personally I have always felt anxiety towards the self-portrait as I find the task of portraying how you perceive yourself to the word in one image utterly overwhelming. If you are smiling are you naive? If you are not smiling are you miserable and too serious? And then if you do not choose black and white photography, your colour choice could somehow be interpreted as something as ridiculous as “she wears orange which is a suggestive colour of criticism and impatience”. Public self-representation is unnerving as every day when we leave our homes to work or enter a public space we put ourselves on a canvas to be critiqued and sometimes, sadly, we are judged purely based on a surface level. I am not sure what goes through strangers minds when they see me after I’ve pulled an “all-nighter” covered with ink stained finger nails from printing in the studio, messy hair and bags under my eyes so heavy that I would pay excess for them at any airport.
As an individual and someone who has been trained in visual imagery I find that when it comes to looking at the self and portraying something visually it is not about what we are looking at but rather how we are looking at it. Studying Fine Art has changed my life and how I see myself, others and the environments around me especially through explorations of the self-portrait. An artist that changed it all for me was Camilla Catrambone.
Catrambone being a photographer did the most wonderful thing and did a family portrait, but instead of taking her family member’s photographs she represented them through objects they owned or used.
It is incredible how much you can learn about someone by looking at a “portrait” of their objects.
This forces the eye to go beyond what a person looks like to what they like and the things they do. Grouping particular objects allows them to have a conversation with one another, revealing contrasts and similarities before our eyes and minds can just place judgement or create some form of stereotype. When I am painting illustrations I always like to incorporate personal elements of the people I am drawing in a surrounding wreath so that every illustration is unique and gives a bit more detail of who they are and not just what they look like.
Never be worried or anxious about how people see you on the surface, artworks that were judged and excluded for being different are now preserved in museums and galleries all around the world -because it is easier to copy something that exists than to forge something unique. We do not exist as single flat surfaces for people to project their judgements onto but rather we are wonderful multi-faceted beings that are constantly bouncing light in and around our forms.
To inspire you all to appreciate and see yourselves for who you are and what you do I’ve put together a “Self-portrait” of 10 items and would love to see yours!
“Sensitive people faced with the prospect of a camera portrait put on a face they think is the one they would like to show to the world… Every so often what lies behind the facade is rare and more wonderful than the subject knows or dares to believe.”- Irving Penn