You can take pictures of landscapes, streets, your things or portraits, but you will be an exception if you’ve never been tempted to stand in front of the camera or see your own reflection and take your self-portrait.
Why does this happen and what are its advantages?
A self-portrait has to do with the ego and narcissism but also with self-knowledge, reflection and critical analysis of the body, beauty and its expression; a self-portrait facilitates the construction of the self-image through self-representation, as well as the recognition of the impact of the gaze of others in this process.
The word portrait means, in its Latin variant, “to take out”. Could it be that through a self-portrait, we can bring out what we have inside?
A self-portrait can be an instrument to get to know oneself, a way of exposing our body but it also manifests the feeling and the intimate way of being. A self-portrait is a map of your intimate world, a statement of intentions, a testimony about who you are and how you show yourself.
Self-portrait Vivian Maier
Self-portrait expresses our need for permanence and it is a metaphor for identity
In the past, self-portraits were a crime. In ancient Egypt, only the pharaohs had the right to take a portrait, a privilege that was extended to priests and high dignitaries of the time. Christianity didn’t improve the situation either. The philosophy of the time pointed to the body as the prison of the soul, as Plato said.
We had to wait for medieval miniatures to find a drawing. Only when humans enjoyed more freedom and individual independence did self-portraits begin to increase, from the 15th century, in painting especially.
Since that time, self-portraits have been one of the artistic genres par excellence. Self-portrait painting stood as a symbol of our need for permanence, and the image itself became a metaphor for identity and power.
Self-portrait Vincent Van Gogh (1889)
Self-portrait transforms and dismantles the canon of beauty
During the second half of the 20th century, artistic proposals with different types of self-portraits began to emerge, where the body was the most important element of artistic creation. Thereby, the work of Ana Mendieta, Eleanor Antin or John Coplans, to give three examples, portray the passage of time, decontextualized bodies and beauty as ephemeral elements.
1972. Carving: a traditional sculpture. Eleanor Antin
Naomi Wolf, in her book “The Beauty Myth,” shows that when traditional power structures that had oppressed women fell, new ones were erected with more significant psychological impact and much more challenging to break.
Fashion, cosmetics and food industries are allied with advertising to turn women (mainly and increasingly men) into slaves of a built beauty. Thus, unlike our real bodies, we are faced with artificial bodies with the invented beauty canons that we are surrounded by.
During the past decade, women breached the power structure; meanwhile, eating disorders rose exponentially and cosmetic surgery became the fastest-growing medical specialty. During the last five years, consumer spending doubled, pornography became the main media category, ahead of legitimate films and records combined, and thirty-three thousand American women told researchers that they would rather lose ten to fifteen pounds than achieve any other goal.
More women have more money, power, scope and legal recognition than we have had before. Still, in terms of how we feel about ourselves physically, we may actually be worse off than our unliberated grandmothers.
Our body image suffers trying to satisfy a beauty canon that promotes unrealistic models who reinforce thinness, stigmatizing obesity and overweight, which is reflected in advertising and the fashion industry. If we build our subjectivity and self-esteem focused on body appearance, we increase our vulnerability. Here, the self-portrait has a fabulous job to do, dismantling the myth.
Self-portrait builds self-concept and evaluates self-esteem
The construction of body image begins in childhood, under the influence of multiple factors, such as the historical moment, the culture and society in which someone lives. The images, toys and body shapes that exist in society initiate the creation of this image.
Body image is the representation of the body that each person builds in their mind, based on our particular perception. Body image will be part of the self-concept that, according to Burns (1990), is the set of perceptions, ideas or opinions that an individual has of himself; regardless of whether they are true or false, objective or subjective, these opinions allow us to describe ourselves.
Building your body image includes three aspects:
- Perceptual, related to the perception of body size.
- Subjective, which involves the attitudes, feelings, thoughts and evaluations that the body elicits, such as when we are dissatisfied with a body area.
- Behavioral, which is manifested in display or avoidance behaviors caused by the perception of the body and the feelings it evokes (Ortega and Jauragui, 2012).
Body image is subjective, but no other element is so exposed to public and private evaluation. The body is the most visible and sensitive part of a person.
With self-portraits, we not only try to understand ourselves, but also evaluate our attributes, which make up our self-esteem and self-concept.
Self-portrait Sophie Calle
Self-portrait is the desire to know each other
A self-portrait is the process of inquiring about myself.
It is impossible to access one’s own image in a direct way, that’s why it is necessary to resort to its representation through a self-portrait, a mirror, a photograph, the image of the other or the memory.
One of the fundamental reasons is the irrepressible desire to know oneself, from a physical and corporal point of view. This instinct exists in the first year of life when the baby begins to form its own image. As Socrates said “know yourself.”
This curiosity about the body itself continues throughout life. When you take a group photograph, who do you look at first? Let me guess: you’re looking for you.
Self-portrait Esther Ferrer
Self-portrait finds all your versions and nuances
We can look at ourselves in a mirror, we can think over about who we are or we can ask our family and friends, but if we have a camera, a self-portrait is the best choice.
Another important reason to take a self-portrait is to find all your nuances, all the people you can be, self-affirm your personality, and make a fantasy that you couldn’t do in real life, such as identifying yourself with a character, dress up or erotically photograph yourself. Beautifying your image or manipulating your figure with certain computer programs will also allow you to see other characters in you.
It’s evident that we are plural beings, in every hour of the day, time of life, moment or place we represent, as great actresses and actors, the role we choose, or the one that others expect from the character they have attributed to us. We create our own image from personal experiences and imaginations, but also from the expectations of others.
But let’s be careful; knowing ourselves doesn’t come only from sight; our hands and touch have their function, muscles, emotions, temperature, and movement. Our thoughts are part of a total holistic self. The optical image is incomplete and many times wrong if we do not provide it with everything that it lacks.
Self-portrait makes it easier to accept and to want what I am
Inside knowledge is a deep desire. Self-portrait has an introspective function, to use it in this way is to not correct, not idealize, to accept emotion, ugliness and old age. Facing the truth has a liberating purpose. Finding yourself in what you don’t like or hurt is a source of inner strength.
Recognizing yourself in a self-portrait isn’t easy, we know who we are but we have never seen each other face to face. Images can change the angle or light, but recognizing each other is intuitive and automatic even if our face changes permanently. Our state of mind alters the expression, but we continue to recognize ourselves. Being happy, sad, angry or in pain changes our appearance completely, but we continue to find ourselves in the image.
Self-portrait Cindy Sherman
Self-portrait can build your identity
A self-portrait has a long tradition in the history of visual arts, but it has reached its greatest development thanks to photography. The creation of an image of oneself by oneself offers multiple possibilities, such as the exploration of one’s identity and life history, or the invention of masks and alter egos that reveal dimensions of oneself that remain hidden. It is, actually, a way of self-knowledge.
Rescue the ability to be whoever you want whenever you want.
Cindy Sherman teaches us that people can be and represent whoever they want. The image is like a factory of identity, a place where we can tell the truth and be different every moment. Could we also do this in real life?
Body image evolves, it is multiple and highly complex.
At the same time, it contributes to the construction and enrichment of one’s own identity, fostering acceptance and self-esteem. What else could we ask for?
Taking a self-portrait is scary, but there is nothing like facing it, discovering it and fighting it so that fear becomes an ally in our personal knowledge.
It is important to take a self-portrait at any time in our life.
A self-portrait allows you to begin to see yourself in a new way. Photography allows us to see, and what is better than start looking at yourself?
When you focus with the camera you have the opportunity to modify reality, choose the face you want and the place where you want to be. You are a model and protagonist of your own work.
A self-portrait will allow you to express emotions and see what they are like. You won’t get bored and also, it is exciting to discover that part of you that you didn’t know, your authenticity.
“Good-Behaviour” . iiu Susiraja
The Self-portrait is a fundamental part of ANDANAfoto’s training activities: