When she started taking self-portraits, the camera became a way for the photographer Jen Davis to experience what she felt she couldn’t in everyday life because of her weight.
“My work has been about making a record of my life that no one can revise. I photograph myself in times of trouble or change in order to find the ground to stand on in the change. I was coming out of a melancholic phase. This was taken when I was traveling extensively, on the road from hotel to hotel. You get displaced, and then taking self-portraits becomes a way of hanging on to yourself.”- Nan Goldin
For my final project as an Arts Management student, I wanted to curate an exhibition that explores women self-portraiture in photography. The photography installation is exhibited in the Rea Coffeehouse in an effort to reestablish the venue for future Chatham students. “Installation” as it applies to art refers to site-specific works that are designed to transform the perception of a space. The rich history of the Rea Coffeehouse, with its graffitied walls, can be viewed as a self-portrait for Chatham University.
The artists to be exhibited reflect author and theorist Susan Bright’s sub-categories of self-portraiture: the body, autobiography, masquerade, studio and album, and performance. Focusing on three artists working in self-portraiture today, as well as exhibiting established women photographers from the 1920’s-2000’s will give insight on the myriad of issues explored through self-portraiture by women photographers. A large focus of this project was to investigate the driving impulse for self-portraits. Since the 1920’s, women have utilized self-portraiture to make statements on gender roles and societal stereotypes in order to take control of identity and representation.
My hope for the exhibition is to raise awareness on issues that women continue to face in society and to foster creative self-exploration. At the same time, the photography installation will be used as a tool to promote future exhibitions in the Rea Coffeehouse and to transform the space into the student-run Rea Gallery.
Natalie Abbassi, 2011.
This is my final set of photography work as a student.
This project is a series of self portraits exploring who I am, both as an American and as an Iranian, through photographs. It has always been a struggle for me to explain myself, who I truly am, and how I should or shouldn’t act in given situations. I feel that maybe these photographs will answer some questions. Questions people might have, or even questions I have for myself as a person who has lived with two cultures her whole life. Sometimes I feel confused, proud, and sometimes even awkward about how to simply deal with the differences of the two parts that make me.
In each image I’ve incorporated myself twice, once as the Iranian and once as the American. In some of my images I see conflict and in some I see peace and calm with my two selves. This exploration is a growing one and much more work will follow.
Kim Rullo, 2011
I have always been fascinated by the human psyche and I channel that fascination through most of the art I create. The paper bag set of images is a self portraiture exploration the vulnerability, self doubt, and self awareness I experience now as I grow older. With age comes self awareness and maturity: the more self aware a person becomes, the more they can choose to empower themselves/thrive within their restrictions, or conversely, become imprisoned and held hostage to them. These photos serve as a running commentary to the sum of my many parts, and also as a blank slate into what I am working to overcome and inevitably become. I am looking to expand this into a larger self portrait project involving other scenarios, surroundings and aspects of myself all the while obscuring my “identity” (face).
Totally heart Nan Goldin.
Nan Goldin, Nan and Brian in Bed, 1983
Nan Goldin, Nan, One Month After Being Battered, 1984
Thoughts on Nan Goldin’s self-portraits:
Nan Goldin’s photographs establish a diaristic approach to self-portraiture, blending art with autobiography. Goldin’s self-portraits portray her in her surrounding environment, with her friends, with her boyfriend, and in her daily life. Goldin has utilized the camera to take control of her surrounding situations and seems not to make statements on society as a whole as she explores herself and allows herself to be vulnerable through the lens. Susan Bright makes a good point when she states,
It’s easy to bare one’s soul to a mechanical instrument; it can be highly cathartic and one has to be accountable only to oneself and the inanimate camera…Autobiographical work is often read as a form of expressive therapy, and it is common for photographers to create a visual record of a personal tragedy or difficult time in life.
Goldin’s most famed 1984 self-portrait, “Nan, One Month After Being Battered”, is both confrontational and painful for the viewer, but important to be seen because it makes a statement on domestic violence. Our culture has become more visual and we are typically more moved by images than that of text. “Nan, One Month After Being Battered” and her 1983 self-portrait, “Nan and Brian in Bed”, show the photographer as vulnerable, yet strong.
With these self-portraits, she takes the abusive relationship in her own control through the use of the camera, and gets the images out to the world to be seen. By taking control, Goldin stands defiant, as a woman who will not remain hidden away from violence but instead will confront it through her art. Goldin offers the audience views into her life through photography and uses the camera as her visual journal. Her work is very personal and she is present in all of her photographs including her self-portraits. Nan Goldin is a photographer whose presence and voyeuristic exposure into her personal life are seen as vulnerable and strong. She has taken control of her abusive situation by capturing herself in these moments, and showing the world her pain.
Thoughts on Cindy Sherman:
Cindy Sherman began exploring self-portraits in the 1970s with her Untitled Film Stills. Her photographstake control of representation through self-portraiture by using herself as subject to make statements to her audience. During this postmodern period of the 1970s and 1980s, there was a rise of identity theory through which self-portraits became a significant tool for exploration.
Artists increasingly turned to photography to express their identities in terms of race, gender and sexuality, often using their own bodies as perfect instruments to draw attention to those who had been traditionally overlooked in the predominantly white, middle-class, male canon of the Western art world.
Sherman’s Untitled Film Stills (1976-1980) launched her exploration into identity by taking on different disguises to say something about society as a whole, and make statements on female stereotypes in a male-dominated world. Regarding her recent exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Sherman states,
When I was starting my stuff, I felt completely isolated from traditional photography, I felt like an outcast, not just from the photography world but even from the art world, which was all about painting and sculpture back then – mostly male painting and sculpture. That’s why a lot of women from my generation tried to find new directions to go in.
Sherman’s direction takes on different identities in photography to make a variety of comments on society and culture.
Her 1981 “Centerfolds” series shows a variety of women in different emotional states – terrified, heartbroken, and melancholic – and makes statements on perceived typical feminine states. Sherman wants the audience to view the images as though they were photographed by a male photographer, as opposed to being taken by her. These images portray the women as being vulnerable and more accessible to the lens as though enjoying the attention the drama of the emotional states arouses. The emotions that her identities take on in this series are more delicate, vulnerable, and weak, as though women tend to act this way more when looked at through the male gaze. With her exploration into color photography in the 80’s, Sherman began using studio backdrop perceptions to change and control the scenery. The use of backdrop to control the scenes remains present in her work from the 1980s to later prints in the early 2000s and her clown photos in 2008. From her early Untitled Film Series, to her later High Society Series, Sherman’s true self remains a mystery, but her statements on identity resonate throughout all of her work. Although Sherman’s photos do not explore her own identity per se, her exploration of different identities and issues of femininity and societal stereotypes with her photography is brilliant, passionate, and genius. Cindy Sherman stands as one of the most important contemporary artists working today.
Works Cited: Bright, Susan - Auto Focus.
Sischy, Ingrid. “The Artists’s Studio: Cindy Sherman.” Vanity Fair