My Incomplete Self

Possible Projects for Assignment 3

My Incomplete Self

“I dare you to sit in front of the camera, free of barriers and take a look”. – artist, Polly Raine in her video review of the 2012 Exhibition Id – The Object of Self  . found when I was looking for information on Cig Harvey  whose book Gardening at Night so fascinated me. I discovered Harvey’s work before Sharon Boothroyd wrote about her in Photoparley and I was pleased about that. A small pleasure, but I seem to explore less generally known photographers so often through all the magazines and blogs I read that I often worry whether I am looking at the ‘right’ ones.

Harvey’s book reminded me again that I didn’t need to take photographs of myself for this Assignment (she uses models, friends and family) but the way she puts images and text together to tell a story comforted me somehow. Nigel Shafran’s work also reinforced the fact that I didn’t need to create a grand, staged project either and it was okay to stay near to home.

Despite all this, this issue I had regarding self-portraits continued to nibble away at me. I know that a part of my avoidance of portraiture in general (even though I enjoy looking at portraits) was connected with my fear that the sitter wouldn’t like whatever I did; that I would get it wrong. This doesn’t really apply to self-portraits for me though. I would be able to please myself as it were. Perhaps it was just that I think them to be self-indulgent or narcissistic. How can just looking at oneself help to sort out a life problem or make sense of something? It puzzles me. I could have gone on for weeks tussling with this dilemma and feeling stuck even though I was actually taking photographs in other ways at the same time. I worked through shadows, reflections, blurred long exposures in domestic spaces.

It still wasn’t enough as I don’t like not facing up to challenges. A Gestalt Psychotherapist once explained to me her belief that change arises when anger becomes greater than fear. I view this more in terms of energy flow that can become blocked by anxiety and so something needs to happen to change this dynamic. Something did happen, I don’t quite know what but one day that was it! I’d bought a remote control; it was a beautiful day and the flowers were blooming so beautifully. The image I posted on Flickr attracted attention and that encouraged me to continue. Where to go next with it was my question? Conversations with myself – what would I be saying?

In feedback to Assignment 2 and looking ahead my tutor suggested that I look at Vivian Maier’s self-portraits ; Cindy Sherman (bearing in mind my comment “I’ve also often wondered what I would be like if I were born a male); explore the work of Joachim Schmidt and his use of the found and vernacular and similarly Erik Kessels. I had done this and wrote previously about the latter two whose work very much attracts me. A further suggestion was to continue my investigations into reciprocal projects such as that between Fay Godwin and Ted Hughes.  “The key would be about finding the right methodology and other artists, in which to take this further.” Additionally, bearing in mind the element of ‘performance in my Assignment 2:

Perhaps this ‘act’ could be your angle, in which you take characters from popular culture/literature, create variations on their backstory and purpose; then you step into their shoes to become another persona creating the stimulus for you to then work upon once you are Catherine again.

Those latter two suggestions were very attractive and continue to be so I have them pending. The only thing that kept coming in to my head was the diary I wrote for two or three weeks and my conclusion that I lead a quiet life nowadays. Much less exciting than Paul’s Journal had been. I decided not to spend yet more time prevaricating; trying to find a concept that appealed to me and gave me creative energy.  Instead I would take a phenomenological approach and see what arose as I continued to take photographs of myself. Concurrently I also read about Alma Haser, in It’s Nice That magazine. She approaches portraits in many different ways, but as I looked for more information on her I was most interested in her approach towards self-portraits. In On The Face Of It  Haser writes about her discovery of the value of wigs and outfits as camouflage to hide behind. That was it! I would buy a wig! I bought three in fact, all of which were sent back because they were too large in bulk and didn’t suit my small head and face. A friend of mine suggested I borrow hers so I did and I experimented with layering and composites to create potential conversations.

My Incomplete Self

_MG_7495 Nik web

What happened next?

I have to be honest and admit that I didn’t really gain anything from my self portraits as such. I didn’t see a different self there. The wig was intriguing but it was still my face – the one I see every day in the mirror first thing in the morning – although I did buy my own wig eventually, now slumbering quietly in its box, waiting until needed again. I became used to setting up and using various kinds of remote release. I don’t agree with those people who say taking self portraits is easier. They take up a lot of time going backwards and forwards; having a look at the result on the back of the camera; juggling with changing light etc. I know I could use tethering with my laptop but that seemed a step too far at the moment.

I didn’t experience any opportunity to think during all this except regarding technical aspects. Maybe that’s it; one’s mind stops travelling along it’s conflicting grooves and focuses upon problems that can be solved more easily. In some respects, that can be a meditative process so I did feel more peaceful in a way and I also realised how much I now enjoy spending time in the garden since we’ve moved house. What about conversations with myself then? Well, early mornings continue to be the best time for me to have ideas and these carried along on the lines of my quiet life together with some inspiration from the garden. These are to follow.

References

Harvey, C (2015) Gardening at Night Schilt Publishing, Amsterdam

http://issuu.com/schiltpublishing/docs/issuu_gardening/13?e=9001016/11014360
http://www.haser.org/on-the-face-of-it/
https://photoparley.wordpress.com/category/cig-harvey/
http://www.cigharvey.com
http://www.darkroomgallery.com/ex33
http://www.itsnicethat.com/articles/photography-alma-haser

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28 thoughts on “My Incomplete Self

    • Interested that Stephanie referred to them as well. Perhaps I was relaxing into being photographed by myself. Are they more like snapshots though? I can’t make up my mind on this.

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      • I met up with Keith at the South St gallery yesterday and we talked about this work! The last four have a structural similarity – a diagonal that flows from bottom right to top left ‘ish – which binds them together quite well, although of course they tell different stories. Different stories of the same subject.
        The washing up image, which I passed over first time around is quite disturbing. Obviously posed – no washing up! – with what looks like a double exposure though the hands are so still….

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      • Thanks – that clarifies it for me. I’m wearing the same outfit as well in three of them. Regarding the washing-up image. It wasn’t a double exposure. It was a long exposure where I stepped into the frame for a short time – kept experimenting with length of the exposure.

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  1. Could you have made yourself really different , like a transvestite, and then explored your relationship to this different self? Tackling issues of prejudice and otherness can be quite revealing, I think. Well done for going out on a different tack – not EB at all.

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    • I’ve been eclectic! What I did was to look at a lot of photographers and then, rather than writing reams of notes, just let those images settle. I wanted to explore how what I viewed took some roots in my vision. I’m now making quick notes on this process, using my Pinterest Boards as a guide – they’ve been very useful to me.

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    • Well – I could have done. The problem was that I had so many ideas so, in the end, decided to keep it simple and see what happened. Jeff hated the wig but the dogs weren’t phased at all – I guess they just see the essential me!

      I’m now thinking about the referencing for my reflective account, which will be the hard bit, as I still have two more projects to present.

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  2. I like the last 4 shots too, but this is the image of you at the sink who really stays with me, after reading this post. I really connect with this one, there is an unsettling intensity to it.
    As always, it is great to see your research process! Good luck!

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    • I’ve responded to John re the last 4 shots – am interested to know your views on this also. The one at the sink was one of a few I took using long exposure and trying to work out the timing for full emergence. Jeff helped me with this as well. I have really enjoyed the whole process of these projects – concentrating on the photography rather than the reading around it.

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  3. Watching with interest Catherine. It seems that you have begun a journey—just waiting to see where it takes you. I am also drawn to the last four because they seem more tranquil, I think?

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    • Yes – have commented to John regarding the ‘tranquillity’. Could it even be relief that I decided I’d done enough and could move on to what I intended to do next?
      It has been a good journey for me during which I have become more settled regarding photography and what I want to do with it.

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  4. Like others the last 4 shots work best for me. The image with a picture in it suggests a sort of pride – eg is it YOUR painting? and the one with you on the stairs with your hand obscuring (defending yourself?) has a narrative quality.

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    • Thanks Pete. I’ve commented re the last four shots below. Am interested to know your views. This really was a journey of exploration just to see what happened when I took photographs of myself. Regarding the image with the picture in it. It’s a photograph and will appear in another project – referencing the painter George Shaw and you and Keith have reminded me that I now need to start the process of noting these references ready for my reflective account. I’m quite proud of it because it’s the first A3 one I’ve printed, with my new printer and special paper!

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  5. Good luck Catherine – you seem to be making progress and I was interested in the image with the landscape. It reminded me a little of Gainsborough’s Mr and Mrs Andrews only without the Mr and the landscape ! As I am currently stuck on the same assignment I’ve decided to widen it beyond just me to include my brother and sister which re-ignited my interest once again. I look forward to seeing your progress.

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    • I really like that – it made me smile. I do have a sense of pride there (hidden of course) see comment to Pete.

      I’m pleased you’ve re-ignited your interest. Have been wondering how you’ve been getting on with the book creation. would be nice to meet up sometime if we can co-ordinate. Just reminded me as well. I keep looking for blog but can’t find it and all I get is your gravatar. Is it a private one?

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      • Hi Catherine no its not private but you can find it at http://www.teresalanhamtwo.wordpress.com not sure why you cannot link to it but try the address. Yes would be great to meet up – am on holiday shortly and will progress with the book when I get back (along with my assignment) and would be good to meet up then too – am back after the 21st September. I’ll email you when I get back if you like and we can sort something out. Also I’ve picked up lots of your reading suggestions and references from other peoples blogs so many thanks for the second hand information as its really useful.

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  6. Thanks Teresa – I’ve found it. Please do get in touch when you’re back. thanks as well regarding the reading suggestions etc.n That’s one of the great things about reading other people’s blogs I think – they’re such a rich resource.

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  7. Like Stephanie the image that resonates with me is of you at the sink . As a self portrait it’s intriguing, it makes me curious to know more – you seem oblivious to the camera and deep in thought. I do like the final 4 too , they form the basis of a set I would like to see more of . You have gained a lot from your exploration , good luck for the next step . What printer did you get and what is the special paper you used ? I am always interested as I love printing but tend to play safe using the same paper and should try something different.

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  8. Your journey of self discovery through self-portraits is very interesting, Catherine. It seems more psychological/therapeutic than a simple exploration of the genre. I think in the garden pictures you look uncomfortable, but as the series moves on, you seem more relaxed within the frame. Am looking forward to seeing where you go next.

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    • Yes – I did feel more relaxed and somehow found a way to look into the lens and still feel I was being me – something to do with how I focussed my eyes. I hope I can remember this the next time someone else takes a photograph of me.

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  9. Pingback: Assignment 3 Part 3 : Selected images and self-evaluation | Context and Narrative

  10. I find the first set of images very interesting – even these didn’t come out in the way you wanted it. You used a blur, a reflection and shadows that are intriguing and inspiring. I especially like the picture taken in the kitchen and the one in study room (?). These two tell me more about you that any other, probably because your personality is reflected in your everyday surroundings 🙂

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    • Thanks for the feedback. I guess I could have developed each into its own narrative but I was mainly experimenting and trying to get used to putting myself in front of the camera.Hopefully it will become easier and easier!

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  11. I’m rather late to the party here (blame it on being away on hols and then having a lot of catching u to do) but I also like the last four images, to me they remind me of the ‘you’ that I know of you (if that makes sense), I feel very comfortable looking at them.

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    • It does make sense to me Carol. I can see the difference as well between the final four and the earlier ones. I was experimenting playing a part with the earlier ones but, by the end, as I was wanting to say, “This is me”.

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  12. Pingback: Project 2: Through a Digital Lens |

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