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