Self Portraiture as Power: How I fell in Love with the Woman in the Photos.
We live in a selfie nation. Did you know that there’s a tactic of taking a photo called a fake selfie? In which someone else holds the camera for you but you extend your arm out as if it is, in fact, a momentary shot that you conjured yourself (with a go-go gadget arm length no less). Our fascination with this self-curated phenomenon seems endless. Yet self-portraiture gets a bad rep. It is easily seen as vapid to spend hours on the floor of your apartment, self-timer mode in full effect, being creative director to your own limbs. However, in a journey with the self as subject, I have found it to be one of the most liberating forms of creativity and expression I have yet to face as an artist. I would go as far to say that it has connected me deeper with who I am as a woman, and allowed me to fall in love the woman in the photos.
I have long been mystified by why we seek muses outside of ourselves. We’re told to look at yourself too long, or to focus on your own-ness is an illness of narcissism, yet narcissism is actually a mental state derived from fear of lacking.
Think of the most impactful female artists who have used themselves as the canvas for their work: Frida Kahlo, Cindy Sherman, Lois Mailou Jones, and my personal favorite Ana Mandieta. All of these women saw the most important study was themselves. If more people looked inward for inspiration rather than outward to those #LifeGoals, #BodyGoals, #CoupleGoals we swipe through daily, we would have more women living and breathing their truths.
I hold the belief that when someone photographs you, they take a little part of you with each image captured. Their eye is requesting you to fit inside their vision, whether they mean to impose or not and once the still is shot you have very little control where that image will go, how the conversation around it will be formatted. When those photos go “live”, thousands, maybe millions of eyes take what they want from the photo. Whether the female gaze, male gaze or other gaze sees it, they are free to digest and judge it as they wish. If the thousands of years of art history prior to the life of Instagram tells us anything, the female has always been a part of art’s context, however, she has had very little say on how she is portrayed and then viewed. We can never stop creepers from creeping, or subjects being objectified but we can structure the way She as Subject is being used.
Fast forward a year into my journey, almost all the content I create is self-portraiture, and this project of documenting myself has been liberating, to say the least. With uninhibited freedom of working in solitude I am unaffected in the time it takes me to “get the shot” and the fearless to express my truest self. When I click through the photos I have taken, I see a woman comfortable in her body, in her space, in her sexuality — she is not trying to fit into someone else’s vision, or appease someone else’s gaze but she commands her own. I found myself falling in love with this woman’s vulnerability, she’s unrestrained, enjoying the flaws that make her real. I love the way the light catches the tiny sprinkling of hairs on her upper thighs, the way the soles of her feet are always dusty from running around her L.A. studio. I love the way that on any given day she could embody a million different women while still staying true to her self. I love that I am in control of how I am being portrayed, and it isn’t at the expense or direction of anyone else. I am so much more than my physical self, and through the photos, I create I can tell that story in a two-dimensional format.
As anything else, the more familiar we become with a subject, the more normalized it becomes to us. Through the act of photographing myself, I was liberated to get to know who I am and see myself objectively. It made me more comfortable in my skin. It made me more comfortable to see that from an outside perspective those little things that bug you about your surface “self” were really not apparent at all.
In the art of self-portraiture, we don’t all need to be Cindy Sherman’s. Part of the craft is self-discovery, and in a world where publishing just means sharing I realized these photos don’t have to go anywhere if I don’t want them to — they are first and foremost for me and no one else.
It’s the study of self.