Context and Narrative Part 3: Projects One and Two

Context and Narrative Part 3

Putting Yourself in the Picture

Here I am on Part 3. I know I’ve been holding back a little but this is mainly due to feeling unfinished on my Assignment 2 because I’m still having ideas about presentation for Assessment. I also got myself stuck on ‘searching for Francesca Woodman in her images’ and decided that I was spending too much time on this and will save it for completion at a later date.

Part 3 concerns putting myself in the picture one way or another in its widest sense. My understanding of this is that it’s not just a case of being both subject and object but portraying aspects of my inner and outer world through my own eyes – both literally and metaphorically. This isn’t new to me because I’ve done this in one way during Part Two and through the Assignment.

I’ve looked at the Assignment brief for Part 3 and started my diary several weeks ago which is really a continuation of the one I started during Part 2 but with a different approach. The earlier one was about ideas for fictional stories, although containing aspects of me of course, but the new one is more focussed on ‘me’. I’m actually finding this new diary quite boring and the phrase that keeps coming over and over again into my head is, “I lead a quiet life nowadays”. There’s no way that I’ve been able to write two or three pages a day, even in the equivalent of handwriting! It isn’t that I feel bored, just that my life is more sedate nowadays and I’m not driving around meeting and interacting with a lot of different people.

I have a few ideas for Assignment 3 at present abut have decided to wait until I’ve worked through the reading and exercises etc. Hopefully further inspiration will strike!

Project 1 – Autobiographical self-portraiture
(Using yourself to say something about yourself)

The Handbook suggests we look at several photographers who use self-portraiture in a variety of ways. I won’t be writing about Francesca Woodman in this post because I got almost obsessively involved with her, her images, and her life-story. Due to this I acquired a large amount of references and readings and I need to distil my thoughts from all this.

Keith Greenough

Keith’s Iron Man series was about his involvement with the Iron Man Triathlon – long distance races consisting of swimming, a bicycle ride and a marathon, in that order, without a break, and within a strict time limit . Keith explored this through a series of portraits of ‘senior’ triathletes (all over 45) but also through I am an ironman as he came in from training. He presented this as a video and also through a composite portrait. This series continued his exploration into strategies used by portrait photographers to ‘disarm the pose’ of their subjects. He was making himself the subject of his own experiments.

The work that most interested me was his composite portrait. I think because it gives movement to the image. Keith is so full of energy and I’ve rarely seen him ‘still’, therefore the composite, for me, captures the essence of him as opposed to his outward appearance. What would my view be if I didn’t know him quite well? A difficult question. I’d certainly be asking questions as to why, at a more mature age, he chose to pursue this type of sport; what drives him – a subject that obviously leads into documentary.

Elina Brotherus

I wrote about Elina Brotherus here .  I do think she was brave to agree to this series being exhibited in the Home Truths: Photography, Motherhood and Identity Exhibition and can only imagine what it must have been like for her to undergo IVF treatment; to begin with hope and then for the attempts to fail. She is certainly speaking for a wider audience here. Would they listen and would her being naked make them pay attention to her work and the accompanying explanation, or would her nakedness turn people away? To begin with I queried the naked pose although now, today, and after listening to her talk last year about her experience, I can see how her naked body adds to that sense of being unarmed, not equipped to cope with such a loss of hope.

I have looked again at Model Studies and noticed how carefully she places herself in the frame and how her skin tone and/or clothes are mirrored by the environment within which she places herself. I also noted that the landscape itself is always beautiful to look at. The landscape I visit is more mundane, everyday on the whole. It’s a small landscape that I can pretend I own as I walk through it. The challenge for me would be to create images that would be interesting for people to look at.

Gillian Wearing

A Gillian Wearing Exhibitions was amongst the first I visited as an OCA student and my write up on that Exhibition is here . This was the question I went with:

After my preparatory reading I noted down masks, sense of self; many different selves; unexpressed selves; boundaries; verbal/non-verbal; Erving Goffman; Eleanor Rigby, and showing yourself through your art.   I read Goffman many years ago and was entertained by his notion of the front and back stage personalities – that we all enact multiple roles in our lives. That was the biggest question I took with me to the Exhibition – is Gillian Wearing going to show me herself through her art – ‘communicate an inner life by proxy’ as her interviewer writes?

 I certainly didn’t get any sense of her as a person or really that she was questioning her role in her family history, or how her role within the family affected the person she is today. The masks made her look robotic, an android. The way people look when they are dead.

Eleanor Rigby, picks up the rice
In the church where a wedding has been
Lives in a dream
Waits at the window wearing the face
That she keeps in a jar by the door
Who is it for
(Lennon, J & McCartney, P. [1966]

One of the latest works (November 2014) I have found on an internet search is described here . Interestingly enough, the two ‘mums’ declined to give any details of their personal lives at the time, so there was a continuation of hiding in plain sight. And here  a C-type print Me as an Artist in 1984 Looking out at us through a mask of herself as a 21 year old, created from an old photograph. This is one of five pieces of work she entered for the Vincent Award, an international art prize. Of 50,000 euros. The Award was won by Anri Sala, the Albanian installation artist.

Project 2 – Masquerades

Nikki S. Lee

Born in 1970, in Korea, as Lee Seung-Hee, this photographer and film-maker came to New York in 1994 to attend the Fashion Institute of Technology and work as a fashion photographer’s assistant. She changed her name to a more American sounding one, perhaps showing her desire to become assimilated into this new Culture. Much of her work  has involved her in transforming herself to fit into various sub-cultures – Hispanic, Hip Hop, Tourists etc.

In an interview here  Lee refers to Buddhism and a saying along the lines of “I can be someone else and that someone else can be me as well”. Lee questions her own identity by including herself into other people’s identity. There’s that element of performance in her, acting into a different group. It’s interesting – I’ve never really wished I was someone else. I do remember though, at about the age of 12, wrapping a scarf around my head to see what I looked like as a nun , and then deciding I’d prefer to be an American Indian princess. The first was after exposure to religion in the form of the Christian Fellowship and the second after watching at the cinema (many times) the film Apache. Burt Lancaster was my hero and I obviously wanted to be Jean Peters!

I don’t get the sense that Lee is being voyeuristic or exploitative. I understand what she is exploring – the way in which in any new group we usually observe and work out how the group operates – what it is to be a part of that group – how can I be myself and yet be accepted. I think she is questioning this in addition to questioning the role of photography in the representation of reality.

For example, in gaining admission to a tight social circle, the participant observer may not only wear an accepting look while listening to an informant, but may also be careful to wear the same look when observing the informant talking to others; observers of the observer will then not as easily discover where he actually stands. (Goffman, 1959, p. 19)

Trish Morrissey

I think her work Front (2005-2007) is very interesting and, probably, if I could observe, it would be a lesson in persuasion/communication. Changing clothing, acting herself into the position of one of the women. Similar to Lee and yet more than that, more interactive, as Morrissey asked the woman she ‘replaced’ to take the photograph after some instruction. I would probably agree to a request for her to join us but it would depend what clothes she wanted to swap whether I agreed to that! I think my children would have enjoyed it.

In an earlier series Seven Years (2001-2004) Morrisey “aimed to deconstruct the trope of family photography by meticulously mimicking it”. Seven years was the age gap between herself and her sister and she staged herself and her sister in tightly controlled scenes based on conventional family photographs. She used props and clothing from earlier times with the family house as the ‘stage’. The colours look authentic although not so sure about the prints. I keep imagining what it must have been like; what conversations they had. Did they clear up any old rivalries/misunderstandings.

Tracey Moffat

Under the sign of Scorpio (2005)
I was interested to read here  that Moffat shot her series “…with a simple digital camera in my loft against a bed sheet curtain, and in my cramped awful bathroom. I then added the high-key supernatural coloured landscape backgrounds to the images in Photoshop on my computer”. She wanted a “very pop, almost comic book quality” to fit her proposition that the women she chose to represent are ‘pop figures’, part of the landscape of popular western culture.   As mentioned in C&N Handbook, p. 81, Moffat isn’t particularly convincing in these portrayals. She makes it obvious that she’s acting and uses the manipulated image to “raw attention to the limitations of photography’s role in the masquerade”. There’s something else for me about diminution of anything these women might have achieved in their lives – picking up their life’s work, trying it on like a costume, and then discarding it.

Moffat often uses clips from Hollywood movies in her work. The latest series (at least that I can find) is Spirit Landscapes (2013) which comprised five photographic series and a moving image work. In one of the series Pioneer Dreaming she uses grabs from ‘Cowboy movies’ – “The dreamy heroines gaze with love at ‘their country’, which is in fact stolen Indian land.


Overall I feel more connected with Morrissey’s work. To me it seems less of a performance and more of an exploration. I need to think about this more – what do I mean when I say this? I’m also thinking about age and wider cultural context. Moffat was born in 1960, Wearing was born in 1963, Morrissey was born in 1967 and Lee in 1970 –  in the time when feminism was taking hold, women were wanting to discover themselves. Who am I really? What do I want to be? Each of them in their own way brings roles, expectations and stereotypes to our attention using photography as the medium whilst also pointing out too that photography itself does not always reflect ‘reality’.


Goffman, E (1959) the Presentation of Self In Everyday Life London: Penguin Books Ltd
Lennon, J & McCartney, P (1966) Eleanor Rigby, (on “Revolver”) Parlophone

[Accessed on 03.08.2015]