Assignment 3 – Self Portrait

Triptych: Father, Husband, Son

 

A brief introduction for my tutor is given in the linked document, Tutor commentary Assignment 3, full details of the assignment are given below.

 

 

As required in the brief for this assignment I kept a diary for a few weeks. When I came to read through it at the end of the period, to help develop my self-portrait, I was intrigued that the vast number of entries were about my role as a person – a father, a husband, a son.

I thought that I would like to explore this concept of me in my separate, different roles as opposed to a composite of all that makes me an individual. By splitting out this aspect of me in a specific role I thought that I could go into a lot more detail for each individual role so I came up with the idea of a triptych – Father, Husband, Son. This approach was noted by BRIGHT (2010, p25) who stated that photographic diaries “can just as easily reveal a variety of different versions of the self. “.

What is a portrait? BRILLIANT (1997, p14-15) believes that an artist must respond to the demands of the subjects wish to endure “The nature of that response is affected by three questions whose answers may be neither consistent nor complementary:

What do I (you, he, she, we, or they) look like?

What am I (you, she, he, etc.) like?

Who am I (you, etc.)?”

 

My response to this assignment is heavily focussed on the Who am I and What am I Like. There is nothing in the following images that will answer the question ‘What do I Look like?’ I decided to wear a mask for each of the three photos because, in a somewhat contrary way, I wanted to depersonalise my self-portrait. By this I mean that I wanted all the attention to be on me in my roles and not on a facial likeness. I think that using the mask forces the viewer to look at what else is in the image rather than what I look like, concentrating on me in my role rather than considering whether the photo is a likeness of me or not. I realise that this has been done many times before, writing in FRIEDLANDER (2005) John Szarkowski writes: “It was clear that Pop Art was not at ease with the self portrait, except as parody, or fat joke, because Pop Art’s best, defining artists were sick to death of the egocentric perspectives of the several varieties of expressionism and wanted to do something that was finally again impersonal.”

I recognise that the mask is the traditional symbol of deceit HALL (2008, p210) but I do not think that my images would be inherently more truthful just because my facial features could be seen.

I have tried to construct an image for each of the three roles that includes symbols to tell the story of how I am currently feeling within the particular role. I also tried to give a sense of season within each image by the inclusion of spring and summer flowers and autumn leaves. In addition I have tried to add a sense of colour within the background

  • Green for spring in Father
  • Orange for summer in Husband
  • Blue for autumn/winter in Son

 

I think that I was influenced in creating these images by the research I did beforehand, in particular an image I first saw in Self Portraits by Liz RIDEAL (2005) of “Self-portrait with hare” by Sam Taylor-Wood. This gave me the idea of using the full length figure with props as symbols to convey a message.

These are my interpretations of what currently preoccupies me as a Father, a Husband and a Son.

 

The story for each image is as follows.

 

Father

Our daughter is currently 17, studying for A levels and applying to University to start a degree in 2015. My wife and I are keenly aware of how our life will change when our daughter leaves home and what that move to independence will mean for her.

The egg in the image is a symbol of creation – the birth of our daughter. The flowers are symbolic of spring – the start of an independent life for her. I tried to add to the sense of spring by adding a greenish tinge to part of the background.

The grapes and vine are symbolic of our daughter coming of age, the symbol of Bacchus and of wine (although I recognise there is a bit of a conflict here as they can also be symbolic of autumn). The clock represents time passing and the suitcase signifies the fact that she will soon be leaving home.

 

Husband

This represents my role as a husband and illustrates the many interests and issues I share with my wife. There are references here to our joint interest in art, literature, theatre, music and cinema. The sheaf of corn is a symbol of Concord HALL (2008, p76) the strength that comes from unity. HALL (2008, p31, p329) states that the apple and red roses are attributes sacred to Venus the goddess of love. The ring symbolises our union.

The butterfly represents our daughter developing into an adult and about to leave home.

The orange light to the background is intended to be a signifier of summer.

 

Son

My mother had her 90th birthday this year but was also diagnosed with Dementia. I have had to assume a much more formal role in helping her to manage her affairs and going through the legal process to obtain a power of attorney.

The sand timer is symbolic of the passing of time – her reaching the age of 90. A symbolic power of attorney is held in my other hand. The leaves indicate autumn as does the colder blue light tinge to the background. My clothes represent the very formal approach to obtain the power of attorney.

 

Conclusion

I am pleased with the original concept of producing this triptych, I think it works well. I am still wondering whether I should have worn the masks or not, in the end I think it was the right decision, it achieves my aim of depersonalising the photo and therefore emphasises the role rather than the person.

Looking back on the images I am quite surprised by the stark and formal nature of the Son image, perhaps reflective of a more difficult year.

Technically I am quite pleased with the images – I certainly feel that each of them is in focus, something my tutor commented on for my last assignment. I developed a keen interest in studio lighting during my Art of Photography course so it was good to be able to use the equipment in this assignment. I did find the lighting more difficult to achieve than I had originally anticipated. I wanted to achieve a more even, flat type of lighting to each image so I used a couple of lights with softboxes from straight in front and a third light to give the background colour.

 

References

Bright, S. (2010) Auto Focus: The Self-Portrait in Contemporary Photography. London: Thames & Hudson

Brilliant, R. (1991) Portraiture (Essays in Art and Culture). London: Reaktion Books

Friedlander, L. (2005) Self Portrait. New York: The Museum of Modern Art

Hall, J. (2008) Dictionary of Subjects and Symbols in Art (revised 2nd edition). Colorado: Westview Press

Rideal, L. (2005) Self-Portraits. London: National Portrait Gallery Publications