Category Archives: Masks and Identity

Exercise 3.2 – aspects of personality

This exercise requires me make a list of some unique aspects of my personality then set about expressing these attributes through a photograph.

I noted that the exercise does not use the word ‘portrait’ on this occasion.

I reflected on a few ideas then went for a walk around the city of Derby.  I opted for a gritty black and white aesthetic to echo the darker, more melancholy, shadow-self that resides below the happy, cheerful persona that other people identify with as being ‘Ian’:

_IMG2767 There is a constant conflict within me of wanting structure and order vs. seeking a simpler, less structured life where random fun things happen.

After taking this I also considered that there’s a voyeuristic element to this image – as though a person unknown is watching me through a venetian blind.  I fear our gradual loss of civil liberties caused by CCTV, internet surveillance, and so on as we cannot be assured that those watching us always have good intent.

 

_IMG2766This image describes me on two levels.  I love to be alone in nature, especially near trees and water.  Despite being in the centre of a busy city this rower have found his own quiet space, the image framed to exclude the surrounding buildings and bridges.

Like me, he’s seeking to enjoy a journey as much as the achievement of the destination.  No competitiveness, no challenge.  Just being, moving, travelling.

 

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Is this graffiti reflecting my nature of wanting to help and support people?  Or is it a mirror, reminding me how often I don’t do this?

 

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I’m easily discouraged by obstacles.  I’m trying to learn to step back and see the way around them.

 


I feel very inspired to develop this into a body of work and, for this reason alone, has been excellent at helping me out of a bit of a rut.  Compared to previous OCA courses I am finding the portraiture in I+P to be more challenging, so it was good to be ‘let off the portraiture leash’ for a while and take photos I enjoy again.

My idea is to consider developing this to see how this mirror of self, portrayed through inanimate objects, changes over time.  Perhaps a photobook over a year.  Like keeping a written journal but containing photographs.  It will be fascinating to see how feelings, mood, style and environment work together and evolve over a period of time.  I need to be careful to ensure that this introspective self indulgence doesn’t become all consuming though.   While I adore the work of Francesca Woodman, things didn’t end up well for her, as we know.  There are also aspects of the self-exploration into the troubled life of Claude Cahun here, as already explored in detail by Gillian Wearing: https://wordpress.com/post/ian513626photography1iandp.wordpress.com/1436

Often a fan of bold ‘Martin Parr like’ primary colours and implied humour, it was interesting to explore this darker side of self.  I believe we all have one inside us.  Hopefully the viewer would feel that they knew something of my personal journey when they reached the end of it.  Although it should really be a personal journal that triggers other ideas and thoughts.  My tutor has encouraged the use of a paper-based photo scrapbook and journal for this purpose so I will combine the two some how.   I note that some people engage on ‘Project 365’ and ‘Photo a Day’ projects.

 

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Art portraiture: a personal epiphany?

Reading Face (Ewing, 2008), I suddenly realised the required difference of approach between art portraiture and commercial portraiture that I am perhaps more familiar with.  Instead of apologetically trying to make photographs that people will like, art photography has a different mindset – that of seeking to peel back the ‘veneer’ of the mask, makeup or fake smile to reveal the ‘real’ person undernearth.

Yes, it is important to establish trust with the subject through openness, integrity and good ethics towards photography.  But also I have a right – a responsibility I might argue – to get the photographs that I want.  It’s ok to experiment, change my mind direct the shoot and try to peer beneath the mask…and capture what I might be privileged to see.  That’s my role as an art student.  Not just to make them want to buy a print for the wall.

Writing it down in a reflective way makes this all so obvious.  But I can see how I’ve been so ingrained (for decades) in thinking that, above all else, I have an over-riding social / professional duty to produce work that the customer likes.  This stifles my creativity.  It feeds my fear of being ok to be  experimental rather than on the safe side.  Seminars are geared towards creating ‘portraits that sell’.

A small thing.  But something that has helped reorient how I approach my work

Ewing goes on to explore this portrait, Anastasia, by Inex van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin which can be found on page 75 and online at:

http://www.artnet.com/artists/vinoodh-matadin/anastasia-collab-w-inez-van-lamsweerde-BcrIDDLb-mMqxT1OpwZBaA2

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He argues that, at first sight, we are viewing an ‘elegant, refined, Versailles-like decadance, this delicate waif of a woman’.  However, upon closer inspection the mask is not actually a mask at all but black make up.  A mirror rather than a mask?  Is the viewer really looking at a ‘mirror reflecting male lust’ (ibid, p74)?  Clearly this is a carefully constructed portrait image driven by a vision of the photographer to express a personal vision and explore the viewer’s gaze, rather than to produce a portrait that the subject was ‘happy with’.

References

Ewing, W.A. and Herschdorfer, N. (2008) Face: The new photographic portrait. London: Thames & Hudson.

Reflection – Identity

 

Reflection point
When different understandings of identity come into conflict with each other it can be quite contentious. When I moved to a suburban area after living in a student area I was shocked
to discover the different expectations now on me to be a good neighbour. In the student area anonymity was the norm but here I was expected to introduce myself and tend to my weeds!

This example is more about collective identity and expectations. You may wish to think about collective or individual identity. Can you think of some examples from your own experience, or of someone you know, where there was a clash of identity? What happened and can you see how fluctuating notions of identity are still potentially problematic? What does it mean, for you, to be yourself? 

My story: good job, company car, magistrate, small village where, yes, people do tut if you let the weeds grow.  Then I realised several years ago I was living their collective identity while suppressing my own.

That isn’t the way to a fulfilling life.  Imagine dying and still never have discovered who you actually are, having assessed your worth, skills and talents only by the yardstick of others?

Yes, we need to play the game.  We wear their style of clothes when asking them to pay us for doing their work.  We conform for 8 hours a day.  But it’s a work uniform now, its not who I really am.

Outwardly, nothing changed in the beginning except my hair grew.  I saw that people responded to me differently because I no longer fitted their preconceived expectations of who I ought to be.  I was reminded of when I used to ride a motorcycle and people in shops would treat me differently for no reason apart from wearing leathers on my next visit.

Funniest moment: needed a bandana to stop my hair flapping in my eyes when out hiking on windswept moors.  Looking my suit and tie up and down, the lady in the shop said “what do you need it for, a mid-life crisis?”.

It’s a shame that the commercial mechanisms of modern society are all oriented towards stifling individual identity and manipulate us to adhere to an established norm.  Britain used to be famed for its eccentrics – now the power of advertising makes us obsess over the minutiae of virtually identical car shapes and colours; wear the same fashions; watch the same films; work in the same industries.  Governments nudge us to comply, aspire and behave with a preferred collective identity.  In that way society behaves with predictability.

We are all unique, even if we are encouraged to act as though we are not by the powers that control our lives.

  

Maybe  the role of the portrait photographer is to spot this individuality and tease it out.