In section 3, “Look at Me!”, I studied the subject of ‘self’ and how it has and is used and interpreted in the portrait. I learned that the idea of the ‘selfie’ goes back beyond photography. Originally the early selfies where exclusively for the rich and powerful to express wealth and more importantly, power, examples such as faces on coins, statues and busts are typical for the earliest examples, later when portrait painting became more available to the lower status of the rich such as Tudor Ambassadors, landed gentry and even self-portraits of the artist himself. All these examples of different images are motivated for the same reason, self-promotion. With the advent of the digital camera and social media, it is now suggested that this motivation of self promotion continues to this day. Common examples can be found on social websites such as Facebook that includes, the use of digital filters and digital photo-editing manipulation to alter their facial detail to fit a more idealised look, or to carefully select photographs showing them in exotic locations or with luxury items such as cars, boats etc. to suggest both wealth and success. Berger argues that it is not necessarily the people that are truly obsessed by property (as may be suggested by some social network photos) but society and culture that is obsessed, thus we simply comply with society’s and our culture’s expectations (Berger 1972, p109). Berger goes on to discuss how some early artists attempted to challenge the traditional portrait style and meaning taking Rembrandt as an example. Rembrandt made two self portraits, the first was when he was 28 and just married, this image shows a happy young man showing off his wife in a picture that makes him looking both successful and opulent; but Berger regards this picture as a performance of a young artist with still a lot to learn, playing a traditional role and that the painting as a whole is merely, ‘an advertisement for the sitter’s good fortune, prestige and wealth.‘ His second self portrait however, Berger suggests comes from a more mature and experienced artist. Painted 30 years later this picture, ‘has turned the tradition against itself….He is an old man. all is gone except a sense of the question of existence, of existence as a question.‘ (Berger, 1972, p111-112).
In the painting by Hans Holbein the Younger, The Ambassadors, (1533) Berger points out the tactile quality of the painting, how the use of different textures painted into the picture offers a sense of touch: fur, paper, woven fabrics, wood, etc. he suggests that this picture, ‘demonstrates the desirability of what money could buy.’ In the picture a skull is painted in a highly distorted fashion, it is suggested that the ambassadors wanted to include a symbol referring to the ever present reminder of mortality and the presence of death. (Berger, 1972, p89-90). The postmodernist idea of identity is that of a constructed one and an identity that is not fixed but fluid, that can adapt and change over time. In Irvin Goffman’s book, The Performance of Self in Everyday Life, (1959) Goffman examins how people take-on or create acting parts that are intended to a produce a stereotypical performance that can be excepted in their community, place of work, or social standing. He also describes how poorly chosen or acted performances can fail. Lessons of this nature is being learned everyday by both ordinary everyday folk and celebrities alike through their activities on social media. Cindy Sherman, has built her artistic carrier on creating carefully constructed identities using costumes, make-up, prosthetics and masks in her self-portrait photographs. Each photograph is Cindy Sherman as another character another identity. Juan Pablo Echiverri, Miss fotojapón, 1998 to present, has been visiting photo-booths in different disguises for self-portraits again following a similar but less elaborate and expensive method to produce the idea on constructed identities.
Social media such as Facebook, etc. are full of images that show themselves off ‘in the best light’ some use software to alter their pictures to a more idealised appearance. Using the self portrait that I used in exercise 3.1, I modified it using digital filters in Lightroom to improve my appearance, please see my Reflection Point, blog. As illustrated in my afore mentioned blog, there is a relationship between the individual making his/her selfie and the audience that looks at it, this relationship is weighted on the side of the audience giving them the privileged position to look and make judgements. Social media appears encourages a mutual surveillance, everyone is looking at everyone else (PH5SAO, p73).
Roland Barthes suggested that their is a complex interplay between the photographer and sitter and audience, for power, positioning and performance, he refers to this as four image-repertoire, (Barthes, (2000), p13.) I explored this theory in my exercise 3.2. In exercise 3.3, I explored the idea of how identities can change/alter for an individual through social and cultural stereotype conventions by simply changing ones appearance, say through a change of clothes.
In exercise 3.4, The family album, I reflected on my own collection of personal photographs. From my reflections in exercise 3.5, I took a selection of my photographs and adding some found images I created a narrative to illustrate the moments unseen and un-captured by the camera.
Rosy Martin Too Close to Home (1999) photographed her family home just before it was cleared and went on the market to capture and ‘holding onto the moment, the place, the trace which she cannot stop cannot keep, cannot hold.’ (Martin, 1999). By coincidence, just before I moved out of my first home (my flat) in 2001, I photographed it, every room; so that I would remember it.
Wellington Close, 2001 Shaun Mullins.
Barthes wrote that photographs exist because something was there, just as the photographs of my flat exist because I once had a flat and this was what it looked like then, it has no doubt changed considerably since these photos were taken. However, Charles Sanders Peirce’s, Peircean system, the photograph is defined as both an icon, based on physical resemblance or similarity between the sign and the object it represents, and as an index, based on a relationship of contiguity, of cause and effect, like a trace or a footprint. (PH5SAO p.82).
The photographic referent is not so much what it depicts but that what it evokes. It (the referent) can be something missing or left out. (PH5SAO, p.82).
In exercise 3.6, I photographed a number of objects that I own to try to get an idea of what sort of person I am, a form of identity through objects.
Assignment 3 I produced six different selves using the theme of a journey through life and taking inspiration from Pablo Picasso’s cubist period. I also appropriated four old photographs of myself taken at key points in my life. I re-photographed them and re-purposed them for my project. This practice has already been established in art by such artists as Damian Hirst, Glen Brown, Sherrie Levine and Jeff Koons. See my blog Planning and Preparation for Assignment 3.
My video link with my Tutor regarding his assessment for assignment 3