Monday, August 15, 2016
Why self portraits?
This is going to be a more than frank post about why I chose to dedicate my craft to photographing myself. Maybe I posted a little about this before but here I will write deeply what my thoughts have been over the years.
It started with the fascination I had for beautiful women (and some men). I sought out to photograph people that I wanted to possess the beauty of. If you have been reading my blog, or if you know me, you know the childhood I endured. So when I was in college, I asked the beautiful ones - mainly fellow students - to pose for me.
But before I continue about how I ended up turning the camera onto myself, I have a huge confession to make. It really wasn't just because I wanted to possess their beauty but it was also because I needed to be the center of attention. This is the truth.
I am the youngest of three girls in my family and I remember becoming excited and happy when I had my picture taken but every time I asked my mother to do so, she would become annoyed. There are some photos of me through the years but when I look at them, I can almost remember that response from my mother. One photo in particular was taken by her after I cried incessantly because she said no at first. I was around 6 years old here. She only took my photo to quiet my tears and whines of "why won't you, mom?"
You can't tell I was crying, could you? Well, it's because once the camera was on me, I felt loved. I felt like I was finally getting the positive attention I deserved. Positive attention that I felt was not given to me in any other way.
However after what I continued to go through with abuse, bullying and ridicule over the years, the yearning for any attention went away. So, with photographing others, I truly wanted to photograph them and put the focus on the beauty ideal.
And I was happy with that. It was easy for me to pose these women because, in my opinion, there were no bad angles on them. However, the more I photographed, the more I saw things different. First of all, I spoke to my models and often they would tell me what they didn't like about their looks. I was shocked then to hear those things. Also, on some, it became difficult to find the right angle. They were very beautiful in my eyes and in person, I found no flaws. However, when I held the camera up to my eye and try to pose them, I saw something different. In fact, there were several models that I made big efforts to make look good on film...even if they looked good in front of me.
It made me think about beauty in photography more and what's more is that I asked myself, "what am I saying with these photographs? Aside from them being classic portraits, is there a message? Does there NEED to be a message?"
I went back to look at a photograph of me that I had to take for a self-portrait assignment. When the assignment was given, a little joy was felt inside but there was also dread. How did I want to photograph myself? What do I want to show the class or anyone else looking at the photo? I took my shirt off but not my bra and thought of being sexy because in my mind then, sexy equals beautiful. Just like society says and sexy/beautiful is held in high regard.
In the media, in American (and some European) society, if someone wants to take your picture, then you must be worthy of that. Being sexy and beautiful was the only way to be photographed and since I wasn't going to get a photographer to want to photograph me, then maybe I should just do it.
And after several years in university, I became courageous in that I was going to show another kind of beauty. I wasn't 100% convinced with feeling it but I knew it would be important to do so. And if it wasn't just enough to photograph my face, I would shove my body in their faces to show that I, too, was beautiful and worth having her photo taken.
And then I got attention. I received attention from the school, from my peers and from the local art community afterward with other images.
I'll go further in saying that the art modeling and encouragement and compliments I received from other artists helped me become more confident and so I decided to use photography to delve into my psyche and really learn about myself. I made an affirmation that I would dedicate my artistic life to the self-portrait. I do photograph others and other subject matters as well but I believe I will always need to say something about who I am through my art.
Things have changed a little in terms of motive. I moved from a more physical and social one to a more psychological one. I have gained and lost a lot of weight over the years and now I am 47 years old and facing a new era in my life soon.
Is the self-portrait photographer egocentric/narcissistic? I can only speak for myself and say no. These words are used in a negative connotation defined as selfish, and disregarding of others, only caring about his/herself. I don't consider myself any of these. What I am doing is for self-preservation - loving my inner child and loving myself as I could not do for a good part of my life. I am giving myself the positive attention I deserve in a way that I can relate to.