EXHIBITION: TERRAINS OF THE BODY: Photography from the National Museum of Woman in the Arts

I visited this exhibition (The Whitechapel gallery, London January- April 2017) to give me some more background for assignment 3 “putting yourself in the picture”.

Artists photograph the female body to express identity, communicate individual and collective experiences and to give life to the imagination. Photography here from the National Museum of Women in the Arts, of 17 artists from 5 continents, show that their contemporary images are increasingly performative and can narrate strong stories. These images are actually mainly stills taken from films or documented performances. Some verge on documentary whilst some are purely narrative. Anna McNay suggests that “The show’s title, Terrains of the body, makes reference to the staging of female subjects in various settings, but the term terrains also evokes a sense of ownership…taking possession of the medium of photography by woman, as a means of expressing her history and identity” (McKay 2017).



The focus is storytelling potential of the body in photography. It was good to see close up Nikki S Lee’s “The Ohio project 2002” where she dressed up and integrated with a group as a Midwestern trailer park resident, posing questions about identity and social behavior.

lee hip hop (Guggenheim, 2017).

As the female body has been a political and cultural battleground, images of fragmented or marked bodies, like Ingrid Mwangihutter “Shades of skin” (2001) with images of scars on her back and dangling feet, as if a hanging corpse impact deeply.

Women are shown in roles acting out masquerades such as Daniela Rossell’s “Medusa” (1999) where she lies on a bed with her hair arranged as medusa staring at you.

Rossell (Sooke, 2017).

Nan Goldin’s “Self-portrait in kimono with Brian” (1983) is half posed and shows an intimate daily life moment.

Goldin (Sooke, 2017)

Kirsten Justesen’s (2013) “Portrait in a cabinet with her collection” of statuettes a teapot and a box is thought provoking.

There were however images that left me with many questions:

  • Justin’s Kirkland’s “Waterfall mama babies” (2006) of a raft expedition where the naked mothers and babies are resting at a waterfall. What is it trying to say?
  • Janaina Tschape’s “He drowned in her eyes as she called him to follow” (1999), with a floppy woman on chair, looking down at her hand in polythene glove? Where is he?
  • Charlotte Ggyllenhammar “The Fall 111” (1999) where I thought she is wearing a ballet outfit, viewed from above; is she falling? Reading elsewhere I discover she is hanging upside down with the ruffled skirts suggesting a wedding dress suggesting loss of virginity.
  • Marina Abramovic “The hero” (2001), a strong image of a woman on white horse, holding a white flag dressed in black. Though I discovered in a review that it is a memorial to her soldier father.

I have read that the artists extend the scope of feminist art, reclaiming their own representation, and embrace the female body as a medium to express identity, however as a viewer I need some help with contextualizing them to build meaning; some more accompanying texts would have been helpful.


Guggenheim. (2017). The Hip Hop Project (1). [online] Available at: https://www.guggenheim.org/artwork/12992 [Accessed 20 Apr. 2017].

McNay, A. (2017). Terrains of the Body: Photography from the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Studio International. [online] Studio International – Visual Arts, Design and Architecture. Available at: http://www.studiointernational.com/index.php/terrains-of-the-body-photography-from-the-national-museum-of-women-in-the-arts-review [Accessed 20 Apr. 2017].

Sooke, A (2017). The Whitechapel Gallery’s all-female exhibit is a quiet, intelligent protest: Terrains of the Body, review. [online] The Telegraph. Available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/photography/what-to-see/all-female-protest-terrains-body-whitechapel-gallery-review/ [Accessed 19 Apr. 2017].

Please note: Any images by other photographers used on this siteare accredited and are being used for personal research and educational purposes only


BOOK REVIEW: the Camera i – Photographic self-portraits from the Audrey and Sydney Irmas collection


The camera I – Photographic self-portraits from the Audrey and Sydney Irmas collection

The book consists of over 140 self-portraits from the nineteenth century until 1988. The photographs are from the collection of Audrey and Sidney Irmas.

In his introductory essay, Robert Sobieszek “Otherselves in photographic Self-Portraiture” meditates on the meaning and significance of self-portraiture. He suggests that as the artist and the subject are the same in self-portraiture the dynamics of viewing, interpreting and representing involve self-reflection at many levels. Interesting he asserts that:

to achieve an honest and convincing representation of the self invariably embodies the realisation that the inner and outer are ultimately distinct, that there are at least two selves, one accessible and another hidden, and that the “I” in self-portraiture is truly comprehending an “other.”(Sobieszek, 1994).

The photographer Richard Avelon said that every portrait is a form of acting or performance and of course the self can be constructed “The self is a project, something to be built” (Susan Sontag, 1978). But self-portraits are revealing “charts of the most personal sort usually done in quiet complicity with the self” (Sobieszek, 1994).

Sobieszek explains that self-portraiture is in three parts: delineation, distortion and disguise. The delineation as the self-portrait basically records the artist on a surface level. However the artist will have altered the surface view in some way and the challenge is seeing beneath the surface. Some self-portraits don’t use the face or even the artists body, Walker Lee Evans represents himself as a shadow, Lee Friedlander as a shadow on the back of a woman (1966).

lee Lee Friedlander, 1966 (Tfaoi.com, 2017)

Others distort their face or their bodies such as Bernice Abbott (1945) in a mirror reflection,

1945_berewnice-abbott_self-portrait-distortion_c (Photographie au Féminin, des femmes photographes, 2017).

Or as Bruce Nauman (1970) does with his own body.

a 1970 by Bruce Nauman born 1941 (Tate.org.uk., 2017).

Fracturing and multiplying the self-image are other ways of constructing the self. Anton Stankowski presents his face in a spiralling image (1937).

StankowskiAC1992_197_117 (Lacma.org, 2017)

Sobeiszek suggests that in distorting their normal look “an inner state of mind or interior agitation may be suggested” (Sobieszek, 1994).

Herbert Bayer‘s self-portrait “Humanly impossible” (1932) which I saw the original photomontage at the Radical Eye exhibition of Sir Elton John’s photographic collection, is an amazing manipulation of photography and just fascinated me.

herbert-bayer-self-portrait (Bayer, 2017).

Henri Cartier Bression offers a self-portrait which is a fraction of his body, his side, pelvis and foot (1933), as do many other artists.

Using mirrors and reflections are other techniques employed by photographers to distort or disguise themselves in a self-portrait.


The collection of images in this book helped me to see a wide picture of self-portraits by photographers. However each one seems to give further evidence to the idea that I came across when initially researching, Trish Morrissey, Francesca Woodman, Nikki S Lee and later Gillian Wearing and Claude Cahun that we all have multiple selves. It is this that I shall take into my Assignment 3: putting yourself in the picture.


Bayer, H. (2017). Herbert Bayer Auction Results – Herbert Bayer on artnet. [online] Artnet.com. Available at: http://www.artnet.com/artists/herbert-bayer/past-auction-results/28 [Accessed 19 Apr. 2017].

Lacma.org. (2017). Imagining the Modern Self: Photographs from the Audrey and Sydney Irmas Collection | LACMA. [online] Available at: http://www.lacma.org/art/installation/imagining-modern-self-photographs-audrey-and-sydney-irmas-collection [Accessed 19 Apr. 2017].

Photographie au Féminin, des femmes photographes – Photography in the Feminine, womens photographers. (2017). A – Photographie au Féminin, des femmes photographes – Photography in the Feminine, womens photographers. [online] Available at: http://photographieaufeminin.over-blog.com/pages/A-1933627.html [Accessed 19 Apr. 2017].

Pinterest. (2017). Dieter Appelt – Autoportrait (1978) (Everything and). [online] Available at: https://uk.pinterest.com/pin/466615211365531994/ [Accessed 19 Apr. 2017].

Pinterest. (2017). killerbeesting* — Robert Doisneau – Self Portrait, 1953. [online] Available at: https://uk.pinterest.com/pin/391813236303839543/ [Accessed 19 Apr. 2017].

Sobieszak and Irmas (1994). The camera i. 1st ed. Los Angeles: Los Angeles county museum of art.

Sobieszek, R (1994) “Otherselves in photographic Self-Portraiture” in: Sobieszek and Irmas (1994). The camera i. 1st ed. Los Angeles: Los Angeles county museum of art.

Sontag, S (1978) Under the sign of Saturn. New York. Vintage books.

Tate.org.uk. (2017). Self-portrait. [online] Available at: http://www.tate.org.uk/learn/online-resources/glossary/s/self-portrait [Accessed 19 Apr. 2017].

Tfaoi.com. (2017). Cite a Website – Cite This For Me. [online] Available at: http://www.tfaoi.com/am/16am/16am1.jpg [Accessed 19 Apr. 2017].

Please note: Any images by other photographers used on this site are accredited and are being used for personal research and educational purposes only


Gillian Wearing and Claude Cahun: Behind the mask, another mask. National Portrait Gallery (Visited 1.4.17)

The exhibition is part of the “I am me?” season of displays and events exploring art gender and identity at the National Portrait Gallery. It brings together two photographers, of different eras, Claude Cahun (1894-1954) and Gillian Wearing (b1963). They both have a fascination with self-portraits and use self-images to explore themes around identity and gender and often play these out through masquerade and performance.

The starting point to the exhibition was Cahun’s series “I am in training” (1927) where she blurred gender distinctions, dressed as a weightlifter but with painted lips and love hearts on her cheeks.

cahun wieghtlifter (Johnson, 2017)

Wearing has responded to Cahun’s image with “Me as Cahun holding a mask of my face” (2012), where she represents herself both as Cahun and as an artist; holding a mask of her own face and wearing a mask of Cahun’s face over her own.

wearing as cahun.jpg (200percentmag, 2017).

Cahun’s image makes me feel uncomfortable as her male costume with items such as stuck on nipples on her top, are at odds with each other; I guess this is the effect she desired. Wearing’s image is softer and more playful as she shows she can take on another identity (female).

The first part of the exhibition shows Cahun and Wearing’s early self-portraits:

In their youth they were both highly conscious of their own self-images and used the camera to begin with experimenting with their many different guises.

Cahun was born Lucy Schwob and transitioned from young woman to gender neutral. With her life-long partner Suzanne Malherbe they adopted gender neutral names, Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore. There are many self-portraits of Cahun: as a young girl with wild thick hair splayed out as if on a hospital bed, possibly referring to her periods of ill health and anorexia, in a turban, in an oriental setting, reading and so on. In the picture below she sits on granite rocks with hair arranged as a boy (1915-17)

Cahun early (Queerculturalcenter.org, 2017).

 Her self-portraits gradually become even more gender neutral, one with a shaven head shirt and braces another with a towel arranged as a Greek robe with bronzed skin, another in profile wearing a corduroy jacket possibly a recreation of a profile portrait of her father and below dressed as a dandy (1921-22).

cahun dandy (Hudson, 2017)

“Masculine? Feminine?

It depends on the situation.

Neuter is the only gender that suits me”

(Claude Cahun 1930, written on the exhibition wall).

Her early work is very narcissistic although obviously focusing on how gender represents identity, I’m not sure if she was expressing a wider issue than her own identity.

Gillian Wearing’s “My Polaroid years” are early self-portraits about 250 shots, in which she used makeshift props and backgrounds to reveal everyday life. Her mood ranges from the self-consciously performative to the ordinary and every day. She began taking the Polaroid’s as a project to examine her own age progression rather than an exhibition material and said when she viewed them objectively it was as though they were portraits of someone else

 “In a way they became anthropological images because I was distancing myself from being an artist taking the photographs…I was doing something as a photographer, but in a very unphotographic way

(Wearing from the exhibition wall, 2017)

Viewing them myself was like looking at her selfies over a period of time, unlike Cahun’s early self-portraits I don’t see any wider issues being addressed.  However as they were taken for herself rather than an audience then I don’t think they can be called self-indulgent. Both Cahun and Wearing certainly seemed to lose their inhibitions through performance.

However I did find her Me:me self-referential photograph below very interesting, conceived in the 1990s she appears to be looking at a magazine about her herself; is she referencing her multiple selves as the self-portrait repeats itself and disappears into infinity? Though possibly if it was to reference her multiple selves each image would have been different?

wearing me me.jpg (FAD Magazine, 2017)

Later works

“You always feel that you are the mask to some degree

(Wearing, 2012 from exhibition wall)

Masks became central to her practice. In 1994 she encouraged sitters in masks to confess all on video “Confess all on video. Don’t worry, you’ll be in disguise. Intrigued? Call Gillian.

 Then in 2014 she reconstructed herself at 21 in a photograph from 1984 to represent her artistic life and life in a bed sit in a tableau evidence of interest in Dali and surrealism with a mask of her younger self over her face.

wearing self portrait hobbies.jpg (Royalacademy.org.uk, 2017).

Initially she used prosthetic masks with crudely cut out eyes, which I find disturbing:

wearing.jpg Secrets and Lies, 2009© Gillian Wearing (Skidmore, 2017).

In this image she poses with her head and shoulders turned as in a historical pose.

wearing cut out Self portrait of me in mask 2011.  Hudson, 2017)

Cahun similarly had a fascination with masks and masquerades “Under this mask, another mask” (1930) so she that could adopt an alter ego or other personality. Cahun obliterates her eyes whilst wearing always looks at the viewer. Cahun’s self-portrait below (1928) as a masked figure in cloak decorated with masks is apparently a visualisation of her belief that she was made up of multiple self’s.

JS1227cahun and masks (Hudson, 2017)

Both artists were interested in transcending time, and shared concerns about the passage of time. Wearing’s photograph appears blurred on a clock face “Me as a clock” (1990). Her “Rock n’ roll 70s” wallpaper uses forensic artists and her own technical work to create impressions of how she might look aged effects of plastic surgery with her changing hairstyles and dress influenced by Warhol works.

She also reconstructed a picture of the photographer Robert Mapplethorpe ”Me as Mapplethorpe” (2009) wearing a mask of him just before his death in 1988, she tried to ensure her eyes held the same psychological expression as his, showing inner turbulence but still very much alive.

mapplethorpe (Royal Academy, 2017).

Both artists focus on their identities, though Cahun on gender whilst Wearing explores her identity more in relation to others whatever their gender. Cahun’s “Studies for a keepsake” (1925) where her disembodied head floats in different poses like an animal in a bell jar but with painted lips and shoulder length hair, shows her trapped by her female identity.

My conclusions:

  • I think they are both using their work to explore themselves as individuals (Cahun) and in relation to others (Wearing); sometimes using disguises or performance to investigate their ideas.
  • They are both unafraid to express themselves through their photography.
  • Their viewpoints are subjectively driven from their position in their worlds, as they analysis themselves, so their work is self-exploratory.
  • They are both using self-portraiture to question identity and wearing in particular how it can fluctuate widely.

 My learning points

  • Self-portraiture may be less than comfortable (for me) but it could be useful to for self-exploration.
  • I should embrace assignment 3 “Putting yourself in the picture” to explore my own identity.
  • Self-portraiture is not necessarily narcissistic but could be therapeutic and enlightening.


FAD Magazine. (2017). Gillian Wearing and Claude Cahun: Behind the mask, another mask at National Portrait Gallery – FAD Magazine. [online] Available at: http://fadmagazine.com/2017/04/07/__trashed-9/ [Accessed 14 Apr. 2017].

Hudson, M (2017) “Gillian Wearing And Claude Cahun: Behind The Mask, Another Mask, National Portrait Gallery, Review”. The Telegraph. N.p., 2017. Web. 7 Apr. 2017.

Johnson, S. (2017). Claude Cahun: A Very Curious Spirit. [online] AnOther. Available at: http://www.anothermag.com/art-photography/7358/claude-cahun-a-very-curious-spirit [Accessed 16 Apr. 2017].

Queerculturalcenter.org. (2017). Acting Out: Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore. [online] Available at: http://www.queerculturalcenter.org/Pages/Tirza/TirzaEssay1.html [Accessed 16 Apr. 2017].

Royalacademy.org.uk. (2017). Behind the mask: Gillian Wearing RA | Blog | Royal Academy of Arts. [online] Available at: http://www.royalacademy.org.uk/article/gillian-wearing-vincent-award [Accessed 16 Apr. 2017].

Skidmore, M. (2017). The Many Selves of Gillian Wearing. [online] AnOther. Available at: http://www.anothermag.com/art-photography/7906/the-many-selves-of-gillian-wearing [Accessed 15 Apr. 2017].

200percentmag. (2017). Gillian Wearing interview. [online] Available at: http://200-percent.com/gillian-wearing-2/ [Accessed 16 Apr. 2017].

Please note: Any images by other photographers used on this site are accredited and are being used for personal research and educational purposes only.


Taylor Wessing 2016 Photographic Portrait award – International Traditional and contemporary photography

I visited this exhibition with a group of fellow OCA students as an “unofficial” study day.

The works in final exhibition reflect the inventiveness and the breadth of their subject matter. The 57  portraits were chosen from 4303 photos. The judges Criteria was: the impact upon viewer and effective use of subject matter.

These are the photographs that most impacted upon me the most.

Frances – Josh Redman 2016

josh redman (Npg.org.uk, 2017)

Redman was previously a sculptor and this shows in this image. He photographed nude sitters in identitical lighting and backgrounds to enhance his understanding of portraiture. This image which combines elegance and spontaneous expressions seems to embody the spirit of the subject. Frances is eighty three and appears strong rather than fragile as you would expect at that age, proud of her skin and body aged and lined. Her skin appears warm and alive. He has captured her from an unusual angle looking upwards to her, perhaps this is part of what gives her the power in the image. I am in awe of this powerful image.

Sleeping worker 2015 – Etienne Malapert. The figure on the grass could be mistaken for dead with the cloth positioned over its head, however the title indicates otherwise. I was drawn by its ambiguity but lingered to enjoy the dappled lighting and subtle colours.

Rosanna and Maria Grazia – Fabio Boni 2016. Portraits of volunteers of Italian Red Cross have been photographed against a vibrant red Background which was chosen to suggest vigor and strength. Again it is the choice and effect of the background that attracts me.

John McCrea – Phil Sharp 2015. He normally takes publicity head shots for aspiring actors. He has used a very shallow depth of field which puts just the left eye and the chin in focus The subject has a cigarette in his mouth as a performance pose and gazes pensively in front of a black background, it is both a nostalgic and contemporary image.

Margo – Rachel Molina 2016

margo.jpg (LensCulture, 2017).

This image was noted for its sensitive use of focus. The sharp focus falls on the elderly lady’s face and the caring hand resting on her shoulder. The possible loneliness shown on her face is softened by her physical connection to a person out of shot. The vulnerability and caring suggested here is what interests me.

John Anastazia – Tom Merilion 2015 from the series Tanzanian street children

tom merrilon (Npg.org.uk, 2017)

These photographs were commissioned by a Tanzanian charity supporting vulnerable children. They were all posed against a white background which was used to disconnect them from the streets that they live on. This definitely focuses the eyes on small details such as his Chelsea football glove and his burnt arm.

Nigel Farage smoking a cigar – Charlie Clift 2016

farage-taylor-wessing (T and Luke,2017)

Photographed in a Belgravia cigar club he has encapsulated his public persona, buoyant, cheeky, and larger than life. The shallow depth of field leaves just his face in focus, arms/hands in front not in focus, though this is obvious in the large gallery print, not so obvious when viewing in a smaller format on line. Once again a plain background, this time blue, definitely enhances the subject and the details.

Boy Scout 2016 Karl Ohiri and Riikka Kassinen

ohiri and kassinen.jpg (Npg.org.uk, 2017)

The scout was watched from a distance as they were setting up a studio for another purpose in Lagos Nigeria. He was invited to stand in front if their bold yellow background which contrasts brilliantly against his dark skin and green uniform. As you look closely at the portraits you notice the small details that are enhanced, such as his fraying scarf and oversized uniform which contribute to his vulnerability. I think it’s the effect of the background against the subject and his clothing that attracts me, as it seems to bring the details in a sharp focus.

Simon callow – Andy Lo Po

ALP.-simon-callow-telegraph-561x748 (Wyattclarkejones, 2017)

This causes me to comment as it shows the actor i a reflective mood rather than as his usual exuberant character. It is obviously a good shot but I don’t like it as it doesn’t reflect the character that I know.

Angela – Peter Mosely 2016 from the series Dermis

Angela (Npg.org.uk, 2, 2017).

This is another of my favourites from the exhibition, It was achieved by photogravure a mechanical printing process where the image is etched onto a plate for printing. This shows her skin in forensic detail and stresses the physicality of her body. The appeal for me in this portrait is the brightness of her eyes staring piercingly and confidently at you.

John Harrison 36852 days old – Paul Stuart 2015

paul-stuart-john-harrison-36852-days-old (Doggett, 2017)

His face emerges from dark background with the strong directional lighting which draws attention to the lines on his face and flecks of silver in his grey hair. The depth of field is shallow with the focus on his forehead lines and the nearest eye which emphasises his alertness and curiosity.

Pink bobble hat “looking back to sea”- Katie Barlow 2016 Series in refugee transport bus Lesbos.  She has framed each of her refugee by the bus windows and curtains subjects and photographed through the dirty opaque glass. The framing and slight blurring enhances the atmosphere of uncertainty and mess (metaphorical).

Wing – Fabio Forin 2016. The subject is throwing his arms up in the air in a carefree way, head up, eyes closed, with the horizon line exactly intersecting with the waist of his trousers. I think it’s his graceful pose which it at odds to the cloudy dull scene behind him that intrigues me.

The “In Focus” display show cases innovative approach to portraiture:

Christina de Middel b 1975 who tackles conventional subject matter through unorthodox means.

middel daniel.jpg Daniel.(Npg.org.uk, 2017)

Her Series The Gentlemen’s Club men, shot in Rio de Janeiro Brazil, men who visit prostitutes were paid to talk about why they visited; the accompanying texts reveal the men’s thoughts and motivations. The images of the four men portray them in a manner which fits each of their stories. For instance Luis who visits because he is lonely is photographed with his back against the wall staring away in the half light. Whereas Daniel who visits for pleasure and fun without commitment, poses looking strong relaxed confident and in control, whilst photographed lying on a bed. She has protected the documentary value of the photographs by not manipulating them in any way, preferring to manipulate the reality in front of her whilst she is shooting. She believes that generally “photography has done a bad job in explaining what prostitution is about and has deliberately- for some obvious reasons- hidden the other half of the story” (McClure, 2016).

My learning points

  • I could see the benefits that those who had also sculpted or used other mediums could bring to their portrait photography, such as Josh Redman.
  • I can now really appreciate the importance of the background in a portrait and the way that the choice of colour can enhance the subject, most especially when it is plain: Fabio Boni, Tom Merilion, Ohiri and Kassinen.
  • I appreciate the impact of using a shallow depth of field to focus on a small detail or part of a face, Phil Sharp. Rachel Molina, and Charlie Clift.
  • The importance of careful use of lighting and perspective, Josh Redman and Paul Stuart.
  • The impact of thoughtful framing, Katie Barlow to convey a message. The variety of ways that the photographer can capture the spirit of the subject, “The Gentlemen’s club”, “John Harrison”, “Angela”, “Nigel Farage”, “John McCrea” and “Frances”.


 Lens Culture, N. (2017). Fleeting Truths: Thoughts on Portrait Photography – Interview with Head of Photographs Phillip Prodger | LensCulture. [online] LensCulture. Available at: https://www.lensculture.com/articles/national-portrait-gallery-fleeting-truths-thoughts-on-portrait-photography [Accessed 28 Mar. 2017].

Mary Doggett’s Learning Log. (2017). paul-stuart-john-harrison-36852-days-old. [online] Available at: https://mary513255cn.wordpress.com/2017/01/15/exhibition-taylor-wessing-photographic-portrait-prize-2016/paul-stuart-john-harrison-36852-days-old/ [Accessed 28 Mar. 2017].

 McClure (2016) in Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 16, National Portrait gallery Publications, London.

Npg.org.uk. 2 (2017). Weekend Workshop: Photogravure Printing – National Portrait Gallery. [online] Available at: http://www.npg.org.uk/whatson/event-root/january/weekend-workshop-28012017.php [Accessed 28 Mar. 2017].

 Npg.org.uk. (2017). Taylor Wessing photographic Portrait Prize 2016 – Exhibition. [online] Available at: http://www.npg.org.uk/whatson/twppp-2016/exhibition/ [Accessed 28 Mar. 2017].

T and Luke, B. (2017).Taylor Wessing Portrait Prize 2016, review: Farage an unwelcome shock. [online] Evening Standard. Available at: http://www.standard.co.uk/goingout/arts/taylor-wessing-portrait-prize-2016-exhibition-review-nigel-farage-an-unwelcome-shock-a3400591.html [Accessed 28 Mar. 2017].

Wyattclarkejones.com. (2017). Andy Lo Po, Taylor Wessing Award – Wyatt Clarke & Jones. [online] Available at: http://wyattclarkejones.com/andy-lo-po-taylor-wessing-award/ [Accessed 28 Mar. 2017].

Please note: Any images by other photographers used on this site are accredited and are being used for personal research and educational purposes only.


Project 2 Masquerades

Exercise: Is there any sense in which Lee’s work could be considered voyeuristic or even exploitative? Is she commenting on her own identity, the group identity of the people she photographs, or both?

Nikki S Lee (b 1970) transforms herself through clothing, make up, and gestures into a look alike for a specific american subculture and then mingles with a similar group of people. She then asks them to photograph her. Through this she is exploring “issues of identity and social behaviour” (International Center of Photography, 2017). Her groups include, Hispanics, Yuppies, seniors, Hip hops, Tourists, and skateboarders:

seniors (Tonkonow.com 2, 2017).

skateboarders6 (Tonkonow.com 1 2017).

Apparently “Lee believes that individual identity is fluid and that her Projects were extensions of herself” (Anon, 2017). As she assumes various identities through photography she becomes recognisable only by her own ethnicity.

This work causes you to question: What is the essence of an identity? How do you identify someone and the group that they belong to? How fluid actually is identity?

I don’t find her work voyeuristic or exploitative as in her images the sub groups all look as if they are enjoying sharing her experience with her and are happy to be photographed with her. I think she is commenting both on her identity, it’s fluidity as well as the identities of others.

Trish Morrissey (b ) travelled to beaches in Melbourne and the UK, found family groups and asked if she could assume the identity of one of them (usually) the mother figure, by wearing their clothes and being photographed In their place with the group. The image was then named after the person she replaced in the group.

morrisy Trishmorrissey.com. (2017). Trish Morrissey. [online] Available at: http://www.trishmorrissey.com/works_pages/work-front/workpg-01.html [Accessed 4 Apr. 2017].

Trish-Morrissey-Photographs-Katy-McDonnell Mutantspace. (2017). Trish Morrissey Photographs: Front On The Beach | mutantspace. [online] Available at: http://www.mutantspace.com/trish-morrissey-photographs-front-on-the-beach/ [Accessed 4 Apr. 2017].

Trish-Morrisseys-photograph-from-Kingsgate-Bay-2006WideWalls. (2017). A Story of the Proto-Selfie: Self Portrait Photography and Photographers. [online] Available at: http://www.widewalls.ch/self-portrait-photography-photographers/ [Accessed 4 Apr. 2017].

These photographs are probably about family conventions, relationships with strangers, boundaries, trust and to an extent privacy, “Ideas around the mythological creature the ‘shape shifter’ and the cuckoo are evoked” (Morrissey, 2017).  She fits in perfectly and it is only when you view a number the images you notice her as the replacement. I find the concept and the enactment disturbing and most definitely would not agree to her request to replace me within a family photograph.

Morrissey uses self-portraiture in more of her work, namely Seven and The Failed Realist. Look at these projects online and make some notes in your learning log.

 In her “Seven Years” project (2001-2004) she and her sister recreated family photos, impersonating others and changing gender and generations “blurring the line between fact and fiction”( (Morrissey cited in Lens Culture, 2017). The seven years refers to their age difference. She seems fascinated by the idealised version of family life presented in family photos, their awkwardness and the faces that people use for the camera. I find them unsettling but amusing. Unlike her “Front” series I feel they are not exploitative or “cuckoo” like.

morrissey seven.jpg September 20th 1985 (2004). © Trish Morrissey. (LensCulture, 2017)

morrissey 2.jpg  January 25th 1979 (2003). © Trish Morrissey. (LensCulture, 2017)

In her “Failed realist” series she worked collaboratively with her four year old daughter exploring what the psychologist Georges-Henri Luquet (1927/2001) described as The Failed Realist stage, where children’s expression of the world is hampered by their physical skills. In her artist statement she explains:

Once my daughter’s “motor skills evolved sufficiently well for her to control a paintbrush, she wanted to paint me rather than be painted.  Instead of the usual motifs of butterfly, or flower, she would decide to paint something from her immediate experience – a movie she had just watched, a social event, a right of passage, or a vivid dream.” (Trishmorrissey.com. 2017).

Tooth-Fairy The tooth Fairy 2011. Trish Morrissey (Trishmorrissey.com. 2017)

This is of course another example of self-portraiture being an exploration of others rather than yourself, rather like “Front” and “Seven “ by Morrissey. The worl of Morrissey and  Lee are great explorations of the fluidity of identity.


Anon, (2017). [online] Available at: https://nmwa.org/explore/artist-profiles/nikki-s-lee [Accessed 4 Apr. 2017].

International Center of Photography. (2017). Nikki S. Lee. [online] Available at: https://www.icp.org/browse/archive/constituents/nikki-s-lee?all/all/all/all/0 [Accessed 4 Apr. 2017].

LensCulture, T. (2017). Seven Years – Photographs and text by Trish Morrissey | LensCulture. [online] LensCulture. Available at: https://www.lensculture.com/articles/trish-morrissey-seven-years [Accessed 5 Apr. 2017].

Morrissey, T. (2017). Front – ZoneZero: photographic convergence. [online] Zonezero.com. Available at: http://zonezero.com/en/liquid-identity/205-front [Accessed 4 Apr. 2017].

Trishmorrissey.com. (2017). Trish Morrissey. [online] Available at: http://www.trishmorrissey.com/works_pages/work-tfr/workpg-11.html [Accessed 5 Apr. 2017].

Mutantspace. (2017). Trish Morrissey Photographs: Front On The Beach | mutantspace. [online] Available at: http://www.mutantspace.com/trish-morrissey-photographs-front-on-the-beach/ [Accessed 4 Apr. 2017].

Tonkonow.com. (1) (2017). Nikki S. Lee. [online] Available at: http://www.tonkonow.com/lee_projects_8.html [Accessed 4 Apr. 2017].

Tonkonow.com. (2) (2017). Nikki S. Lee. [online] Available at: http://www.tonkonow.com/lee_projects_2.html [Accessed 4 Apr. 2017].

Trishmorrissey.com. (2017). Trish Morrissey. [online] Available at: http://www.trishmorrissey.com/works_pages/work-front/workpg-01.html [Accessed 4 Apr. 2017].

WideWalls. (2017). A Story of the Proto-Selfie: Self Portrait Photography and Photographers. [online] Available at: http://www.widewalls.ch/self-portrait-photography-photographers/ [Accessed 4 Apr. 2017].

Please note: Any images by other photographers used on this site are accredited and are being used for personal research and educational purposes only.



Project 1

Autobiographical self-portraiture

Exercise: 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?

Francesca Woodman (1958-1981) shot mainly black and white photographs, which may at first seem impromptu were actually carefully constructed. She told her friend Sloan Rankin why she was so often the subject of her own photographs, Woodman replied: ‘It’s a matter of convenience, I’m always available’ (quoted in Rankin 1998, p.35).

 Space?, Providence, Rhode Island, 1975-1978 1975-8 by Francesca Woodman 1958-1981 (Tate 1, 2017)

This is one of a series of seven from Woodman’s Space2 series where she blurred and distorted her body. It has been suggested that Woodman’s movement was to “show you what you do not see – the body’s inner force’ (Woodman quoted in Jui-Ch’i Liu 2004, p.28), refusing to “to allow her body to be defined by the viewer’ (Jui-Ch’i Liu 2004, p.28).

Untitled 1975-80 by Francesca Woodman 1958-1981 (Tate 2, 2017)

In this image her foot is blurred, does she do this to avoid completely exposing herself in a portrait?

Untitled 1975-80 by Francesca Woodman 1958-1981 (Tate 3, 2017)

In this image Woodman’s arms are blurred as they move and her face is obscured as it looks down.

Francesca-Woodman-From-Space2-.jpg (British Journal of Photography, 2017).

As you can see her images were often blurred by long exposures and slow shutter speeds. She rarely reveals her whole self, and usually if she does not disguise herself by blurring she uses props to mask parts of her body, such as the peeling wallpaper above.  In her images the viewer is “ drawn to the emptiness around her, pushed to consider not just shape of the girl, but also her performance, her position in the portrait, her process of capturing her image, the act of photography itself” (British Journal of Photography, 2017).

Some compare her photography to Surrealist photographers, whilst others “insist she was a feminist, exploring the ways women are forced to conceal and disguise their true selves” (Salter, 2017). Reflecting on what I have seen of her work it does seem to me that her photographs are about are about showing herself but only partially, whether this is to disguise or intrigue I’m not certain.

Elina Brotherus (b1972) is a contemporary photographer who in her work “Annunciation” uses photography as an investigative tool. In the series she shows through her images her journey through IVF treatment. The title Annunciation provides an association with her difficult process becoming pregnant with the Virgin Mary’s, and certainly her images shout sorrow and loss. In fact in conversation she tells how she enjoys looking back and comparing things (The Finnish Institute in London, 2017). Brotherus says that she looks for reflections or mirror images, hiding and showing, or horizons. She believes her work is often defined by her old slow 4”by 5” viewfinder camera which needs a tripod and takes time to set up encouraging her to look carefully.

Brotherus (Boothroyd, 2016)

Gillian Wearing (b 1963) in her series Album uses masks to recreate family photos, using the original image with her behind a facial mask. She had silicone prosthetics made of her mother, father, sister, grandmother and her 17-year-old self-created (see below), and then made self-portraits while wearing them.

wearing 2 (Skidmore, 2017)

haunted_l4_z (Guggenheim, 2017).

In this Self-Portrait at Three Years Old (2004) her adult stare gazes through the eyeholes of the toddler’s mask “Wearing plays on the rift between interior and exterior and raises a multitude of provocative questions about identity, memory, and the truthfulness of the photographic medium” (Guggenheim, 2017). Wearing said “What I love about photographs is that they give you a lot and also they withhold a lot.” (Anon, 2017).


The work of Francesca Woodman may have become more interesting as her early death means that she is unable to answer questions about her work and her purpose remains a real enigma. I do find her images ascetically pleasing, the blurring, the shaping of her body and the variety of props and backdrops that she uses. There is obviously an element of self-indulgence in her images but I sense that this is caused by a preoccupied troubled mind rather than narcissism. I am not sure whether she is addressing issues wider than her own.

 Elina Brotherus appears self-indulgent but again for a reason and this time one that I can understand having just completed my C and N assignment 2, photographing the unseen, which was self-documentary. She is candid about her purpose in the series. Her nakedness in many of the shots I’m guessing is to symbolise the baring of her soul and possibly to intensify the vulnerability that she feels, hoping desperately to conceive. Though this work is personal I believe she is reaching out to share with the many others going through the same emotional and physical experience.

 I was able to view some of Wearing’s work at the National Portrait Gallery’s exhibition “Gillian Wearing and Claude Cahun : Behind the mask another mask”. It seems to me from her early polaroid “selfies” that there is an element of self-indulgence in her work. However it she has since developed this early self-consciousness into experimentation with the passage of time, identities and in particular her identity in relation to others. Wearing has said “you always feel that you are in a mask to some degree” (National Portrait Gallery wall, 2017). I found her images interesting, question provoking although not aesthetically pleasing to me. Certainly none of these photographers are afraid to use self-portraiture as a means of self-exploration which is thought provoking to their viewers, and can work at different levels without any accompanying texts.


Anon, (2017). [online] Available at: http://“Gillian Wearing,” interview by Leo Edelstein, Journal of Contemporary Art [Accessed 4 Apr. 2017].

Boothroyd, S (2016) Context and Narrative. Bridgeman Art Library. Barnsley.

British Journal of Photography. (2017). On Being an Angel: finding Francesca Woodman in the otherness of her self-portraits. [online] Available at: http://www.bjp-online.com/2016/01/on-being-an-angel-francesca-woodman-foam-amsterdam/ [Accessed 3 Apr. 2017].

Guggenheim. (2017). Gillian Wearing: Trauma and the Uncanny. [online] Available at: https://www.guggenheim.org/arts-curriculum/topic/gillian-wearing [Accessed 4 Apr. 2017].

Jui-Ch’i Liu, ‘Francesca Woodman’s Self-Images: Transforming Bodies in the Space of Femininity’, Woman’s Art Journal, vol.25, no.1, Spring–Summer 2004, pp.26–31.
Isabella Pedicini, Francesca Woodman: The Roman Years: Between Skin and Film, Rome 2012.

Salter, K. (2017). Blurred genius: the photographs of Francesca Woodman. [online] Telegraph.co.uk. Available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/art/art-news/9279676/Blurred-genius-the-photographs-of-Francesca-Woodman.html [Accessed 4 Apr. 2017].

Sloan Rankin, ‘Peach Mumble – Ideas Cooking’, in Hervé Chandès (ed.), Francesca Woodman, New York 1998, pp.33–7.

Tate 1. (2017). “Space², Providence, Rhode Island, 1975-1978”, Francesca Woodman 1975–8 | Tate. [online] Available at: http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/woodman-space-providence-rhode-island-1975-1978-ar00350 [Accessed 3 Apr. 2017].

Tate 2. (2017). Untitled, Francesca Woodman 1975–80 | Tate. [online] Available at: http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/woodman-untitled-ar00357 [Accessed 3 Apr. 2017].

Tate 3. (2017). Untitled, Francesca Woodman 1975–80 | Tate. [online] Available at: http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/woodman-untitled-ar00358 [Accessed 3 Apr. 2017].

The Finnish Institute in London. (2017). Elina Brotherus and Home Truths. [online] Available at: http://www.fininst.uk/en/articles/646-elina-brotherus-and-home-truths [Accessed 4 Apr. 2017].

Skidmore, M. (2017). The Many Selves of Gillian Wearing. [online] AnOther. Available at: http://www.anothermag.com/art-photography/7906/the-many-selves-of-gillian-wearing [Accessed 4 Apr. 2017].

Please note: Any images by other photographers used on this site are accredited and are being used for personal research and educational purposes only.


BP Portrait Award 2016 Lincoln Usher Gallery (November 2016) & National Portrait gallery

When I visited the exhibition I was as interested in the texts accompanying the portraits as I was the portraits and art work.


 A PORTRAIT OF MY SON. Miseon lee (b.1959)

190_2016_bp_portrait_award_work_1381 (Npg.org.uk, 2017).

The artist says: ‘This painting focuses on the uncertainty of youth where young minds are left confused on the brink of adulthood.’


DIVERSION (Oil on board). Charlie masson (b.1987)

190_2016_bp_portrait_award_work_1373(Npg.org.uk, 2017).

This is a self-portrait of the artist seen in the screen of his mobile phone. Phones and tablets are often used as impromptu mirrors, although the artist comments that they have also ‘become an extension of our bodies, containing all sorts of information pertaining to our identity.’

SELF-PORTRAIT IN PEMBROKE STUDIOS (Oil, charcoal and wax on panel). Eileen Hogan (b.1946)

190_2016_bp_portrait_award_work_0640(Npg.org.uk, 2017).

Since 2013 Hogan has used a studio that belonged to Leonard Rosoman. Hogan says: ‘He used a mirror on a hinge to gain a different perspective on his paintings, and I kept getting glimpses of myself at work. I came upon this image of myself by gradual, stealthy approach.’


PORTRAIT IN THE MIRROR: THE VEIL (Oil on canvas). Antonio laglia (b.1953)

190_2016_bp_portrait_award_work_1713(Npg.org.uk, 2017).

The portrait is of Natasha, a professional model who has worked with Laglia for some time. He describes the process as: ‘The model entered the studio and sat in front of the mirror and just for fun tried some hats. When she found an old white hat with a veil, her reflection became the starting point for work to begin’.

TO SENSE WHAT IS COMING (Oil on panel). Jane Gardiner (b.1974)

190_2016_bp_portrait_award_work_0865 (Npg.org.uk, 2017).

The artist organised sittings with friends to create sketches, photographs and reference material for when she had recovered. Gardiner wanted to explore how people use props to tell stories about themselves and provided a range of crowns, ears and masks from which they could choose.

 TAD (SON OF THE ARTIST) (Oil on canvas). John Borowicz (b.1968)

190_2016_bp_portrait_award_work_1883 (Npg.org.uk, 2017).

The portrait is of the artist’s son. Borowicz says: ‘This portrait came about quite by surprise. One day my youngest son found a large paper bag and instinctively put it on his head. While wearing the hat he became even more animated than usual, like an actor going into character. This transformation represented the notions of play and discovery in the purest sense.’

KARINA IN HER RAINCOAT (Oil on canvas). Brian Sayers (b.1954)

190_2016_bp_portrait_award_work_0326 (Npg.org.uk, 2017).

The portrait is of the artist’s friend Karina. Sayers says: ‘I wanted the coat to be the main focus. The dramatic shape inspired me in relation to the figure it contained, particularly the way it enveloped her, and the colour.’ Karina happened to be gesticulating while chatting; the pose was captured in one of Sayers’s reference photographs.


 RÉGIS (Oil on canvas). Christophe Therrien (b.1966)

190_2016_bp_portrait_award_work_1015 (Npg.org.uk, 2017).

Therrien aimed to capture a simple, ordinary gesture of everyday life of his friend. As Régis looks up into the dramatic light coming from above, the pose takes on added tension, while the low viewpoint was chosen to give intimacy to the moment.



190_2016_bp_portrait_award_work_2052 (Npg.org.uk, 2017).

The portrait is of the photographer, Martin Chaffer, whom has a particular interest in paintings and agreed to several sittings with the artist. Chkhikvadze decided to paint Chaffer with a map of London to provide an interesting visual context.

FALK (Oil on canvas). David von Bassewitz

190_2016_bp_portrait_award_work_2002 (Npg.org.uk, 2017).

The portrait is of the artist’s close friend Falk, depicted in his apartment, filled with books, paintings, drawings and sculptures. Von Bassewitz says: ‘It is like entering Falk’s train of thought. You could say his apartment in itself is a kind of portrait with him at the centre.’ Background can be a portrait with subject at centre like two pictures back to back. The shape and background in this picture facinated me.


 INSOMNIA (Oil and resin on wood). Diego Aznar (b.1985)

190_2016_bp_portrait_award_work_0284 (Npg.org.uk, 2017).

This is a self-portrait, of which Aznar says: ‘In this painting I attempt to depict a state of anxiety by using a deeply shadowed background and a view from above. I’m interested in different aspects of human behaviour and how they are perceived by society.’

SELF (Oil on board). Shany Van Den Berg (b.1958)

190_2016_bp_portrait_award_work_1556 (Npg.org.uk, 2017).

This self-portrait was undertaken in a short time frame of 9–10 days to create focus and clarity. The artist says: ‘In the age of instant selfies, fleeting likes and constant sharing, there is something wonderful about the permanence of a self-portrait painting. It invites repeated musing and offers newly discovered details even after a thousand views.’


FRANCESCA (Oil on canvas). Daniele Vezzani (b.1955)

190_2016_bp_portrait_award_work_0340 (Npg.org.uk, 2017).

The portrait is of the artist’s daughter, Francesca. In creating this work he took inspiration from an earlier photograph of Francesca as a teenager while her personality was forming. He says: ‘The left part of the face is watching us carefully, the right one seems to be looking inside herself.’

SILENCE (Tempera on board). Bo Wang (b.1981)

190_2016_bp_portrait_award_work_0189 (Npg.org.uk, 2017).

The portrait is of Bo Wang’s grandmother, lying in a hospital bed during the last stages of cancer and losing her ability to speak. Wang says that they had a sometimes difficult relationship until the onset of illness brought about a belated reconciliation. He says: ‘Sometimes she tilted her head and looked at me. There was too much emotion in her eyes to be expressed in words,’

PIA (Oil on board). Gentian Lulani (b.1972)

190_2016_bp_portrait_award_work_0098 (Npg.org.uk, 2017).

The portrait is of Pia, a friend of the artist, whom he met in Ireland. Lulani says ‘he was impressed’: by her abundance of ideas, plans, dreams and enthusiasm. It was not just her physical portrait that I wanted to paint, but her energy for her life ahead.’

LAURA IN BLACK (Oil on linen). Joshua Larock (b.1982)

500_2016_bp_portrait_award_work_0917 (Npg.org.uk, 2017).

He says: ‘I sought a gesture and expression, along with a subdued colour palette, that is wistful, evoking a vague but deep longing. Her gaze is direct and bold, but also distant, searching for something unknown.’


DAD SCULPTING ME (Oil on linen). Jamie Coreth (b.1989)

500_2016_bp_portrait_award_work_2062 (Npg.org.uk, 2017).

This was given the BP YOUNG ARTIST AWARD. The judges commented that “We were drawn to the timeless quality of the painting and its treatment of a father and son relationship through art. It is a generational painting of the artist’s father sculpting a portrait of the artist”.

The portrait of the artist’s father, Mark Coreth, was painted entirely from life over the course of a month in the sculptor’s studio. ‘My father has influenced me greatly in my work and given that it is a relatively strange thing for a sculptor to raise a painter, I thought it could be an interesting father–son project to make portraits of one another at the same time,’ says Coreth.


  • To consider the importance of mobile phones and other personal technology when exploring personal identites.
  • Think about using mirrors to give different perspectives on portraits/self-portrait
  • Remember props can be used to put subjects at ease or to help to bring out elements of their characters.
  • Consider lighting and viewpoint to give the desired emphasis and effect.
  • Remember the importance of the background to give context.
  • Try to work in a short time frame to retain focus and clarity

Excerpts of the accompanying texts by kind permission of Collections access Officer, The Usher gallery Lincoln.


Npg.org.uk. (2017). BP Portrait Award 2016 – Exhibitors. [online] Available at: http://www.npg.org.uk/whatson/bp2016/exhibition/exhibitors/ [Accessed 17 Apr. 2017].

Please note: Any images by other artists used on this site are accredited and are being used for personal research and educational purposes only.