Why Create Self Portraits?


I try not to be too negative in my day-to-day life but there are some things I strongly dislike – one of them being so-called “selfies”. This is generally because I am saddened by any culture that encourages spending massive amounts of time focusing a camera on one’s face  instead of on the world around us.

That may sound like an odd statement coming from someone with a gallery full of self portraits. So, why do I do them?

When I started photography, my goal was to immerse myself in the world without really being a part of it. I was in a depressive state, thick in the mud of a personal and professional mess. I spent nearly every waking moment trying to ward off my problems and contain my ever-mounting stress. The last thing I wanted was to be reminded of me.  

Particularly when I started, the beauty of photography was that it allowed me to witness and celebrate the world without being in its frame. I photographed things – cups, vases, flowers, jewelry, mirrors, glasses, mountaintops, waterfalls, corners, and walls. I experimented with different angles, colors and viewpoints, switching up the picture that was in front of my face for another perspective. I walked aimlessly in parks and on city blocks looking for something of interest. I was content in celebrating the other.

Then I moved on to living beings, eager to experiment with lighting, posing and backgrounds. I became almost obsessed with capturing that little something about existence that lays hidden beneath us.

But to do that, I needed subjects, and I’m not really good at finding them. First of all, I’m an introvert and an all around general homebody. I hate to ask anyone for anything and even asking for a picture seemed like a chore. Plus, everyone I know is tired, stressed, over-scheduled and only partially interested in posing for me. Even registering as a photographer for model mayhem caused issues (computer issues, but still…..).

In short, the search for models became frustrating, and my artistic goals stalled.

The something wonderful happened. I started reading more about fine art photographers who used themselves as a subject. These people had work that I admired and work that went beyond mere photographs of them. I realized that it was possible to use yourself as a subject and yet not have your story in the frame at all.

That’s when I changed the way I worked.

I no longer waited for subjects to find time for my projects. I used the most convenient, accessible, cheap and understanding subject I knew – me.

A perk of self-portraits is that you can change anything you’d like about the subject with no hurt feelings. Here I got to throw away my brunette hair and become a blonde. Yes, I realize it’s a hefty price to pay.

I’m very aware that self portraiture might come off the wrong way. People may think that I’m photographing myself because of some sort of narcissistic tendency. You know, because I can’t get enough of staring at myself.

Right. Just ask my husband how much I love pictures of myself. There’s a reason we have none.

The irony is that most people who do self portraits are not interested in capturing their self on camera at all. It’s about capturing a story using the one person that shares the same vision in their head as you. This makes posing easier, intent more clear and the process to be quick and streamlined.

So instead of waiting and letting the stories in my head wither away and die, I choose to do self portraits. I do employ some tricks to minimize the focus on me, that is I often shoot myself  from the back or side, under fabric or shrouded in darkness. Heck, I even have one I’ve been working on where I completely blacked out my face [I promise it’s for a purpose and it’s unclear if it’ll ever be finished anyhow]. 

In other words, I’m doing what I can to make self-portraits as little to do with the self as possible.

Think of it like I’m here as a stand-in. I’m the body that is supposed to be anybody.

I still yearn to create images celebrating and exposing different shapes and sizes, colors and textures, each one with their own unique story. This is why I do commission work and keep an open invitation to those willing to be my subject. I hope one day to be spending far more time behind the camera than in front of it.  But for now, this restless, fiercely introverted artist will have to make do with what she has.