Category Archives: Part 3 Projects & Exercises Putting Yourself In The Picture

Part 3 summary: Self-portraiture

The significant learning from this project has been the recognition that self-portraiture can be much more than an attempt by the artist to identify or capture the essence of themselves. Whilst autobiography can be the central topic of the exercise it can also be used as the catalyst to explore wider issues.

I considered some questions posed about self-portraiture in particular whether this genre is an example of narcissism or self-indulgence? Many artists seem to enjoy independence in their work in order to maintain control and to remain unhindered in their own particular working style so I can relate to this and see the attractiveness of the arrangement so no, I don’t necessarily see self-portraiture as self-indulgent.

However clearly there is much opportunity for narcissistic motivations in self-portraiture and in a culture and society dominated and built upon image this is an unfortunate consequence. I think the question needs to be posed of why does the particular artwork contain an autobiographical and or self-portraiture element but the question of what lies behind the art would always be relevant.

Another interesting question is about the relevance of nakedness in Elina Brotherus’s work. I am currently reading  J Berger (1972) Ways of Seeing and nakedness is clearly defined as a revealing quality, “to be naked is to be without disguise.” (Berger, J. p 54, 1972)

As Brotherus’s Annunciation work is very much about being totally open and honest about the impact of involuntary childlessness and the feelings which ensue then the choice to be naked is entirely relevant.

I think the final point worth mentioning for future attention is that of all the featured artists in our research for this course there was only one male Nigel Shafran. Could this be related to Berger’s general view that the majority of art throughout has been concentrated on the traditional relationship based around the male artist painting a female subject for a male owner/spectator? More than possibly.


Berger, J (1972) Ways of Seeing, 2nd edition. (2008). London: Penguin books.







Part 3 project 3: Self-absented portraiture

Nigel Shafran Washing Up 2000

Figure 1: Nigel Shafran, taken from Washing up (2000)

As previously in Context and Narrative we can communicate our ideas and concepts by means of an absented presence, a technique not restricted to self-portraiture.

Some examples of it’s wider use already researched during this course are Chloe Matthews Shot At Dawn (see here) and Paul Seawright Hidden (see here) the resultant images can create a physical and cognitive space between what is present and what is absent from the frame which allows the viewer to reflect upon and evaluate their own response which can be a deeper emotional process and one which I find intriguing.

An example of a more autobiographical work already researched elsewhere in my learning log would be Sophie Calle’s Take Care Of Yourself (see here) emanating from a rejection letter received from a lover. This and other works by Sophie Calle often draw upon her own experiences as she explores aspects of human social interactions and as such are a form of self-portraiture.

The final artist I will consider in this study of self-portraiture is Nigel Shafran the former fashion photographer who now concentrates more on capturing the everyday in life often taking images of objects in their immediate environment almost as still life images as seen in his series Washing-up (2000), “How we place things can be telling of what and who we are,”. (Shafran, 2008).


Jobey, L (2008) ‘Domestic Harmony’ The Guardian (Online) AT:

(Accessed 6 July 2016)


Figure 1: Nigel Shafran, taken from Washing up (2000) AT:

(Accessed 6 July 2016)





Part 3 project 2 Masquerades Trish Morrissey

Hayley-Coles Trish Morrisey 17 6 06

Figure 1: Trish Morrissey, Hayley-Coles (2006)

Trish Morrissey masquerades as someone else as part of an exploration into the family photo album for her series Front (2005-2007). Morrissey approached families enjoying a day out on the beach asking to join their group and exchanging places with a woman from the group who was often the mother who in turn would take the photograph using the 5×4 camera that Morrissey has meticulously set up for the shoot.

The series is a collection of 12 images each named after the individual replaced by the artist in the composition. To ensure that the images are as authentic as possible it requires Morrissey to effectively assume 12 different personas although her true fascination lies in the exploration of the family unit.

This is a subject explored by Morrissey in another series called Seven (2001-2004) in which she collaborates with her sister (seven years her senior) in building scenes from their earlier family life in Ireland. Morrissey has recreated the original sense of time by using hairstyles, costumes, furniture and props from the decade in which the images are supposedly based.

Again by playing on the made up nature of the image we begin to question the original point in time and what might lie behind the happy normal scenes populating the majority of our family albums. Morrissey asks questions about, “how they are also used to propagate the hegemony and stability of the nuclear family unit.” (Brown, C. 2010).


Brown, C, (2010) Portfolio, Issue No 49 (online) AT:

(Accessed 5 July 2016)

Philips, S. (2013) ‘Trish Morrissey’s bet photograph: Infiltrating a family on a Kent beach.’ In The Guardian (online) AT:

(Accessed 5 July 2016)


Morrissey, T. Hayley-Coles (2006) taken from

(Accessed 5 July 2016)

Part 3 project 2: Masquerades Nikki Lee

Figure 1 The Hiphop Project 2001

Figure 1: Nikki Lee, taken from The Hiphop project (2001)

Nikki Lee is a Korean born American artist who has explored the subject of people and their identity. “Acting different depending on who is with us is something that we all do.” (Bright, 2011:40) In her Projects (1997-2001) Nikki Lee explored this idea of shifting identity by transforming her persona to join a series of different ethnic and sub-cultural groups and photographing the results.

Lee completely transforms her appearance and persona to fit in with the different groups who each know that Lee is an artist and seemingly welcome her into their space. To gain maximum authenticity and so as not to disrupt her assimilation Lee captures the experience by having members of the group take holiday snap-like pictures that she herself directs whilst using a basic low-tech camera.

Nikki Lee originally from a small Korean village was brought up on western popular culture digested through mass media channels before moving to America in 1994 to study fashion in New York and the influences of her background can be seen in her work. In making Projects Nikki Lee has assumed numerous identities such as the Hispanic, Hiphop, Punk, Skateboarder, Tourist, Schoolgirl and Yuppie.

I find her work interesting as an exploration into image and identity and how this works to differentiate people but also how it integrates people. I think Lee’s work asks us why we choose to integrate. Do we need to? What would happen if we did n’t? Remembering that Nikki Lee was actually born Lee Seung-Hee but chose an American sounding name as soon as she arrived as a Korean immigrant in New York.

Again by understanding her background in fashion and advertising I can see how Lee might be tempted to pose another question regarding the depth and permanence of identity especially in the light of the way that Lee was able to change hers so frequently and with such relative ease.

Is the work of Nikki Lee merely voyeuristic or exploitative? What does she seek to prove by integrating with the group? I believe that by understanding Nikki Lee’s personal journey we can tangibly see her personal interest in this field.

I also believe that her work is valuable in so much that it reflects on people and modern society (values) by revealing the lengths that people (have to) go to in order to fit in to what is a superficial socially constructed reality. I think Lee starts to help us make the conclusion that on many levels people are or at least can be the same.

I also looked at a later body of work made by Nikki Lee called Parts (2002-2005) which explores people in relationship to others, again an interesting self-portraiture project which delves into the human psyche and how this collides with societal needs and values.


Bright, S (2011) Art Photography Now London: Thames and Hudson Ltd

The Creator’s Project (2011) Kyuhee Baik. AT:

(Accessed on 5 July 2016)


Figure 1 Taken from The Hiphop project 2001

(accessed 5 July 2016)

Part 3 Project 1 contd : Autobiographical self-portraiture Gillian Wearing

Gillian Wearing jpg

Figure 1. Gillian Wearing taken from Album (2003).

In the work Album (2003) the artist has recreated original images taken from her own family album. The interesting part is that this time around, instead of her father, or mother or brother appearing in the image we have Gillian disguised by the wearing of a mask of the original subject of the image. The images are extremely convincing and this is part of what makes the viewer consider the effects of the relationships that exist between family members, described as the “tragic struggle between the unique self and the smothering hand of genetic destiny,”(Bravin & Lee, 2003).


Bravin & lee, (2003). Gillian Wearing – Album, New York Times (ONLINE) AT:

List of illustrations

(accessed 3 July 2016)




Research: Elina Brotherus



Figure 1. Elina Brothrus taken from annunciation (2009-2013)

Elina Brotherus is a contemporary artist who regards herself as a model and tool for her photography and from which she has investigated her own autobiography but she also has explored wider questions about the human form and it’s interactions with the landscape. Whilst not always including herself in the frame you can sense her presence throughout her work.

We were referred to her series Annunciation, an autobiographical account her unsuccessful IVF treatment where Brotherus takes on her own experiences to give a voice and visibility to the many people which suffer from what she refers to as the taboo subject of involuntary childlessness.

These are poignant images stretching over a five-year period where Elina Brotherus appears throughout with the passing of time noted by changes in her hairstyle and colour and internal decorations of her house. There is little relief through the series and as with all excellent work the impact on the viewer grows deeper over time. I found certain similarities in how she told her own story with Bryony Campbell’s The Dad project (2009) a series of work I researched earlier in the course (see here).

As I found a particular interest in Elina Brotherus I also looked at her work that ran parallel to Annunciation which was Carpe Fucking Diem, (2011-2015) where in one frame Brotherus focuses on a plate of oysters which is often used as a symbol of an aphrodisiac which carries a sense of poignancy in a series dedicated to Brotherus’s search for a new direction and a sense of a future in a life without children.

I particularly liked the work Les Femmes de la Maison Carre (2015) where again Brotherus combines and perfectly blends her literal presence within the frame with her emotional presence felt even when she leaves herself out of the composition.

The images from this series are described by Brotherus as, “at once composed and natural. They are direct yet mysterious. They live in this moment and in the past. They effortlessly make use of the house and it’s surroundings.” The viewer is invited and forced to create their own interpretation and back story for the narrative which Brotherus creates which I found both interesting and creative.

In one article Brotherus describes how she is, “believing in the ‘profound sameness’ of human beings” (Yeh, 2002) which was an idea I had an immediate empathy with and this prompted a further viewing of her work which seemed to provide a deeper affinity to her work for myself. I also really liked how she was able to combine variety in her work with an uncompromising coherence.

Whilst researching Elina Brotherus I came across a short video that she had made as a homage to Francesca Woodman although she does not regard her as a major influence. (Brotherus, 2011)

I very much liked her work and felt that it provided some answers to the questions posed by my review of Francesca Woodman but also gave a more contemporary and accessible perspective on self-portraiture and it’s different functions.


Elina Brotherus website AT:

(accessed 30 June 2016)

Elina Brotherus profile AT:

(accessed 30 June 2016)

Pulver, A (2011) ‘Photographer Elina Brotherus’s best shot’ The Guardian (online)AT: (accessed 29 June 2016)

Strecker, A (s.d) Lens 12 Ans Apres: Portraits over time AT: (accessed 29 June 2016)


Figure 1 (accessed 3 July 2016)

Research : Francesca Woodman


Francesca Woodman’s suicide in 1981 at the age of 22 brought an abrupt end to her short career as an artist and photographer. Following her death Woodman has become world renowned for her mesmerising self-portraiture work.

OCA quotes Susan Bright on Woodman’s work as “alluding to a troubled state of mind” and indeed this is the prevalent critical narrative but I believe that this simplified description does not recognise the overall significance of Woodman’s contribution and indeed her parents, themselves artists’, refute the claims that the work reveals a troubled person and a close friend commented that, “she had an illness: depression. That’s all there is to it.” (Cooke, R. 2014).

Remembering that Woodman’s main body of work is from her university career she was clearly a young person who was growing as a woman, a person and as an individual and exploring what this means through her self-portraiture. Francesca Woodman’s work is clearly deep, complex and searching and it can be dark and ghostly at times but it is also playful, youthful, experimental and provocative.

Katharine Conley (2008) argues that critics have successfully “established Woodman’s credentials as an accomplished practitioner of photography within post-surrealist and post-minimalist traditions, an artist who used technique effectively to disturb the typical parameters of space and time for her medium.” Conley sets out that Woodman was posing the question of who am I this being the opening question of Nadja the book by Andre Breton the founder of the Surrealist movement.


Figure 1. Providence, Rhode Island (1976)

Above is the third image referencing music and playing the piano implying that Woodman wished for her work to be read in a linear fashion as music would be. The other two images each carry captions, the first, “And I had forgotten how to read music,” and the second, “I stopped playing the piano.”

The above image appears with the caption, “then at one point I did not need to translate the notes; they went directly to my hands,” which implies a reference to Breton’s Manifesto of Surrealism where he defines “psychic automatism in it’s purest state, by which one proposes to express-verbally, by means of the written word, or in any other manner-the actual functioning of thought.” Woodman confirmed that she recognised Breton’s automatic writing was a” veritable photograph of thought,” (Conley, p231. 2008)

This critique is either ignored or disrupted by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art as the catalogue for the Francesca Woodman exhibition places these 3 images at plates 58, 60, 61 with plate 59 being independent of this music metaphor play.

Perhaps this is a minor example of how art critics can misconstrue the artists’ intentions in their reading of the work and therefore the artist in general. In the same way that Susan Bright claims that the work is of a troubled mind much has been made of Woodman’s suicide more often than not dominating interpretations of her work. Bryan-Wilson (2011. P189) argues that this in part may be due to what Berger (1972. P46) set out in his theory of women as the surveyed.

In terms of the self-portraiture within her work Woodman was not exclusively focussed on herself as is generally accepted as her mother commented that she was usually her own subject and model as a matter of convenience, “because she was always available,” (Cooke, 2014).

In one her journals Woodman notes, “I am interested in the way people relate to space, the best way to do this is to depict their interactions to the boundaries of these spaces. Started doing this with ghost pictures, people fading into a flat plane- becoming the wall under the wallpaper or of an extension of the wall onto floor.” (Townsend 2006, cited in Conley, 2008: 236). This provides an insight into how Woodman was interested in broader themes beyond her own autobiography.

Francesca Woodman’s body of work is coherent in style and form but is also extremely varied and to describe the body of work merely as ‘ghostly self-portraits’ is probably an injustice.

I originally came across Francesca Woodman in early 2015 whilst studying OCA1 Expressing Your Vision and at that time I interpreted her work in the usual narrative of dark, troubled and complex.

Over a year onwards, I have read a broader range of critical interpretation and have been able to actually see some of Francesca Woodman’s work recently at the Tate exhibition Performing for the Camera (2016). In this exhibition her images appeared alongside other artists from the 1970s in an exploration of body and matter in relation to time, motion and space.

Seeing some of the surreal and performance art photography from the 1960s and 1970s has changed my view of Francesca Woodman’s darkness and has made her work more accessible to myself by placing in it a recognised context of photography’s history.

I can begin to interpret how she explored her body, often obscuring her face or parts of her anatomy and whilst not necessarily overtly political her work is often recognised as “art informed by feminism”. (Bryan-Wilson, 2011, p191).

The point being that whilst the autobiographical perspective of her self-portraiture work offers a useful starting point I believe that there is a wider perspective than just purely Francesca Woodman’s personal story.


Berger, J (1972), Ways of Seeing. London: Penguin.

Bryan-Wilson, J (2011) ‘Blurs: Towards a Provisional Historiography of Francesca Woodman’ In Keller, C (2011) Francesca Woodman San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. P 187-195.

Conley, K (2008) ‘A Swimmer Between Two Worlds: Francesca Woodman’s Maps of Interior Space’ in Journal of Surrealism and the Americas 2:2 (2008) 227-252 (online) At:

Conley, K (2008) Chris Townsend Francesca Woodman. London and New York: Phaidon Press, 2006) (accessed 28 June 2016)

Cooke, R. (2014) ‘Searching for the real Francesca Woodman’. In The Guardian (online) At: (accessed 28 June 2016)

Keller, C (2011) Francesca Woodman San Francisco Museum of Modern Art  

List of illustrations (accessed 28 June 2016)