Exercise: self-portraiture

Reflect on the pieces of work discussed in this project in your learning log and do some further research of your own.

Here are a few questions you might ask yourself:

  • How do these images make you feel?
  • Do you think there’s an element of narcissism or self-indulgence in focusing on your own identity in this way?
  • What’s the significance of Brotherus’s nakedness?
  • Can such images ‘work’ for an outsider without accompanying text?
  • Do you think any of these artists are also addressing wider issues beyond the purely personal? 

The work of Francesca Woodman, although fascinating, is disturbing. The large number of works (over 500) produced in a short time, the fact that in the vast majority she is alone, often in decrepit surroundings and the occasional self-harm images suggest something beyond narcissism and in Bright’s word, suggestive of a troubled mind at the very least.

I did a blog post on Elina Brotherus which can be found here. Her images interest me, but at the same time there is a strong element of narcissism. She is usually centrally placed and often naked. We can’t avoid the fact that the element of being naked has strong cultural aspects. In her native Finland, I understand that there’s nothing special about this – in fact a 2012 article in the Helsinki Times titled Nudity not an Issue states that “For such a shy and introverted people, the Finns are quite comfortable naked. ” (see here). In other cultures, it might signify vulnerability or be rejected entirely as being taboo. Whether naked or clothed, Brotherus faces the camera directly with the same dead-pan expression which seems to say “it’s all the same to me”, so there’s an aspect of her being comfortable in her own skin and not needing more than that. In particular, the images of Brotherus lack the voyeuristic or semi-erotic nature of some of Woodman’s photos.

GIllian Wearing takes a quite different approach, with her work Album, reminding me a little of Cindy Sherman, but without the theatricality. Wearing painstakingly creates masks and uses props to make herself resemble her mother, sister etc. Her purpose seems to be to question whether family roles are fixed. After all, if one family member can appear like an another, could they not also act like another? What does that mean for our ideas of family stability?

The images can work without accompanying text, but the text can add a much deeper layer of meaning. For example, knowing about Brotherus’s failed IVF treatment and deep sadness about not being able to have a child adds significantly to the interpretation of some of her work such as Annonciation and certain images in Carpe Fucking Diem.

Lastly, Elinor Carucci’s work is different again. In the Closer series, she produced images of herself and and immediate family. She does not appear in all images, but in all cases the images are sensitive ones showing what we can imagine is the interaction of a very close family. This intimate theme is continued in Mother – her story of being a mother herself. Nakedness is used, as in the case of Brotherus, to show a close family (just herself and her two children) over a number of years. These images can certainly work without text or even a caption because the intimacy and love is obvious between the family members.



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