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Thursday, June 25, 2015

Self-portrait Photography

Photographic self-portraits have their roots in the painters art.

The French pioneer photographer,
Nadar, took a series of self-portraits
seen here from eight different angles.
When artists mention self-portraits, invariably they're thinking in terms of painted self-portraits in the manner of van Gogh, Rembrandt, Chuck Close, Picasso, and a few other prodigious producers of personal painted portraits. Until fairly recently, with the advent of camera phones and what's come to be called the "selfie," we seldom thought of self-portraits in terms of photographers. That's a serious oversight in that photographers have been making self-portraits almost since the invention of the camera and film. However, until the advent of digital images, most such photographic self-portraits were in the traditional mold of painted portraits--fairly straight-forward physical representations. Photography had a tremendous influence on painting, but the same can be said in reverse. Photographers tended to be painters with a camera.

Amateur fun and games.

Copyright, Jim Lane
A painter takes a selfie, which
later becomes a painting.
Then digital photography became so simple and fun that amateurs got into the act. There was no film to buy and process, thus trial and error, experimentation, and simple excesses cost absolutely nothing so long as a print on paper was not involved. The darkroom became a thing of the past as photo editing software evolved advanced features and ease of use. About the same time, or shortly thereafter, the pros added technical expertise and creative expression to the fun and games, turning photographic self-portraiture into high art. Moreover, they also broke free of the restrictive traditions previously cast by painters. They moved on toward attempting to depict more than mere physical likeness, into the metaphysical. Sometimes photographers used their own faces and bodies to proclaim a message. In other instances, their self-portraits took on expressionist or abstract expressionist qualities portrait painters (with a few exceptions) never would have considered. Paintings take time, money for supplies, and no small degree of technical expertise in drawing and handling the paint. Digital photos, were virtual lacking in all the above, therefore encouraged experimentation, which is the heart and soul of creative expression.

Decisions, decisions..., Lex Wilson.
To see more of this artist's work, click on the video at the bottom.
365 series, 17-year-old Brendon Burton.
Photoshopped wishful thinking?
Photographic self-portraits can basically be divided into four types: images from a hand-held camera (the selfie), those utilizing tripod-mounted cameras, images involving reflective surfaces, and works relying heavily on digital photo editing. Beyond that, such photo-portraits can be broken down by content into categories having to do with the fun and funny, those depicting the artist's likeness and/or personality; those promoting a social point of view; simple art for art's sake; and finally the grotesque and/or pornographic. Personally, I tend to prefer images in which the artist has relied upon the creative use of the camera alone. I know it's really not, but Photoshopping somehow seems like "cheating." I use it all the time for enhancement purposes and love playing around with multiple images, but as compared to the advanced technical demands of the old-fashioned darkroom (mine has now become a storage area), digital editing seems "too easy," all too often a crutch in attempting to hide simple bad photography.

Inspired by Escher,
Alexei Sovertkov
Inspired by van Gogh,
Tadao Cern
Yet, inevitably, the most creative photographic self-portraits involve a great deal of photo editing, and believe me, achieving the software's full potential is no easy task. Beyond the bare, utilitarian essentials, the learning curve becomes quite steep. Personally, I prefer an ArcSoft piece of software called PhotoStudio 2000. Yes, it's fifteen years old, and it has it's quirks, but I find it simpler to use than Photoshop and it pretty much does all I ever need to do. Of course, as with any software, it comes down to what you get used to and my reticence to needlessly tackle the "new and improved."

Paul McCartney's self-portrait,
probably around 1964.
Taking photographic self-portraits
to new heights.
Self-portrait, Sebastien Del Grosso
Of course photo editing software hasn't been the only area of technological advancement having a bearing on photographic self-portraits. Notice the Rolleiflex technical marvel of fifty years ago (above, left) then try to imagine the foolhardy young man (above right) attempting to use similar item today. As is obvious in the very youthful self-portrait of Sir Paul (long before he became a "sir") mirrors and other reflective surfaces have frequently played a part in photographic self-portraits. My own photographic self-portrait utilizes a gold reflective lawn ornament. Other photographers have used such items as lenses (below) automobile chrome, crystal balls, glassware, spectacles, water, and even their own eyes to reflect their self-images, usually with the aid of some masterful digital editing. That's especially the case when "drawing" with a camera is combined with drawing using a pencil. The results can be quite startling as seen in Sebastien Del Grosso's photographic self-portrait (above).

Down Is The New Up, Lecates

Lex Wilson, one of the most talented of all the photographic self-portrait artists.

Self-portrait of an artist-photographer on a bad day.


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