Friday, September 13, 2013

Digital Photography and the Self-Portrait

            Every fine art photographer, every artist, for that matter, that creates work for her/himself creates a self-portrait. That is to say that every piece is a representation of who she/he is. I do this in a very literal sense. For the past 20 years, I've made it almost a commitment to turn the camera in to me, as opposed to other subjects.
            Anyone that has ever photographed themselves for any reason knows what a challenge it is. The emotional and psychological aspect alone is something to deal with when the lens is facing you. The technical aspect is another and the two definitely go hand in hand. I have spent hours creating a set, working on lighting and donning costumes (or not) while trying to keep in mind exactly what it is I want to say, portray, etc. I have posed mainly alone, but there are times I will use other models. That can be distracting and throws off the original idea if I don't keep them and myself in check. I use cable releases, 10-20 second self-timers and assistants to do the actual shooting and I have always told the latter, not to look in the camera or give me feedback unless I asked (usually composition or focus questions are all that I will ask for).
             For 15 of the 20 years I have been photographing myself, it has been with film. Some days I would allow myself not to care that it was a roll or three, but more than oft, I realized the cost of each roll, plus chemistry and subconsciously would adhere to the limitations of a 12 exposure roll of 120 or a 36 exposure roll of 35mm film (or the few times I shot 4x5, it was mere sheets!) Sometimes that was (is) a good thing when I strive for the perfect image in a few shots, but there were many times when I would be too excited about the shoot, that I would forget to focus or I would be cropped out of the image in weird places for the whole roll. Most importantly, it made me 100% conscious of the poses. It's hard for me to be natural in front of the camera no matter how long I have been doing it for. I'm always inclined to truly pose.
              In the last few years, my main assistant has been my husband. He is not a photographer nor artist but has taken an interest in making photos for a blog he's been working on (a good hobby - keeps him out of trouble) so I have guided him a little, even when he is the most impatient with learning anything that takes longer than a quick answer to (don't get me started with our arguments over my teaching him Photoshop basics!) OK, enough, husband bashing...
               When we married 7 years ago, we purchased a DSLR-like point and shoot by Panasonic. It was great for what it was. It was easy to use and the picture quality was actually decent. Over the years, though, it took a beating - was on many road trips, getting banged around and in the end, even with new cards, the image quality started to deteriorate. We didn't think it was worth it to try and get it repaired and now, with the certain demise of Kodak's film and paper, I finally complied and we purchased our first DSLR - Nikon D7000. It's heavy, has more buttons than I feel is needed and I am not entirely happy with the kit lens it came with BUT the image quality is quite nice. I can print large without any problem and I love finally having a normal viewfinder again!
              Something interesting happened with our last two trips using this camera. I set it up on the tripod as usual. I metered, composed the shot and I did the other thing I usually do, I told my husband when to press the button. It's what I have always done! I made sure my hair was not in my eyes or that my dress was as it should be so that I was not moving when the picture was shot. This time, though, he didn't listen to me (not uncommon either - ha ha!) and without looking in the viewfinder, just kept pressing the button. At first, I got annoyed about it but then I had a thought. This is digital, not film. I can shoot unlimited amounts! What occurred after that, was that I could take a more abandoned approach to my posing. Why did I care if there were blurry imperfect photos? So what if there were some where I was making a stupid face with my mouth wide open or even blinked? This digital camera (as opposed to the other for some reason) allowed me a freedom I never felt before.
            When we got home the evening or our last trip, I uploaded the files. I only threw out a handful for real technical issues (way too dark, out of focus, etc.) and when I looked at two that I thought were possibilities, I went with this one - I was trying to fix my dress when my husband "clicked". It worked. It worked better than the one I posed for. I declared aloud that if I am using my husband/assistant, that he must keep doing this. I have always wanted the candid aspect to come into play with my work but it was always hit or miss. This method of shooting, will have a lot more hits, I think, than misses.
            This post is my thoughts and feelings about the subject and I am sure most of what I am writing here is obvious to many but for someone who spends so much time worrying about what's happening when the lens is facing her, it's become an epiphany.