Autobiographical self-portraiture



This work appears in my Learning log as well, as required in the course manual.  It’s duplicated here because it better suits my organisational scheme! [Edit: not in future, having clarified the correct placement with OCA]


Franscesca Woodman

Bright’s observations on Woodman’s mental health are made with the clarity of hindsight. She remarks that it is ‘difficult’ to avoid seeing signs of emotional distress in her work but this could be said of many self portraitists. The very fact of their purposeful introspection may be considered evidence of inner turmoil.

Woodman came from a family of artists, her parents worked with ceramics and her father later in photography. It’s not difficult to imagine that artistic expression and personal investigation would be actively encouraged in the household.

I don’t know if it’s possible to consider her work without being aware of her history. I happened on it online several years ago and liked it right away before I was aware of the background. Knowing what I know now makes the work more poignant, but I am projecting my personal experiences of adolescent turmoil in young women onto the images now.

She may have found reward in making those images because of her state of mind, or in spite of it, but in the absence of her own testimony (I’ve searched without success) we must draw our own conclusions.

Elina Brotherus – “Model Studies”

“Model Studies continues from where my earlier series The New Painting (2000-2004) ends. Even more pronouncedly than the previous series, Model Studies is not about personal stories nor a documentary about someone’s life. The images have been constructed for visual reasons. My attention is attached to light, colours, the rhythm of the masses, and to subject matters with classical notions. The figure often turns her back to the spectator. This gesture invites to a peaceful contemplation, not to a confrontation.” Photography — Elina Brotherus. (accessed September 25, 2017).

In her text for these images, Brotherus explicitly excludes her “self” whilst including her body; they are about form she says, not the person. Interesting that she uses the ‘over-the-shoulder’ aspect which I considered here. (LINK)

Her nakedness may be a visual analogy for emotional exposure, the desired effect being to emphasise to the viewer the authenticity of the images. I wonder if a naked body can ever be contemplated without an element of sexual vulnerability? Does Brotherus believe that her work is more powerful and effective if she photographs herself unclothed? I wonder if she considers any scopophilic response to be advantageous?

If her intention is to hook the viewer’s interest then she has made a good choice. As humans we are deep-programmed to connect with others like ourselves, particularly if we are shown more of them than we would normally expect to see. But once hooked where do the contents of the images lead us? There is little to go on; the photographs look like they have been made in a French house of some age (witness the typical window closures. And the fact that her website mentions homes in Finland and France) and include the occasional ‘objet’ – a glass ball (crystal?), a badly foxed mirror.

I think she has made a success of these photographs because they function on at least two levels – first, as her personal expression, the details of which may be disclosed in text form to a greater or lesser extent. Also as rather intriguing, pleasantly lit and arranged images in their own right, which have value without the application of meaning other than that which the viewer may themselves adduce.

They are not particularly original. There are countless examples of this type of image, naked female with odd prop in flaking room. But they are creative and to a certain extent expressive and they are unique to her, if not to the world in general and they exist within her larger body of work which is more than the sum of its parts

Addressing wider issues? Who knows? It would be very difficult to finger any such matters with any certainty as the images are simply too ambiguous. Supporting text may assist but this is pretty sparse on the website. Perhaps the images would resonate with the personal experiences of some viewers, just by accident, which would be all well and good.

I’ve thought about Gillian Wearing’s mask series at length and I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s a clever device which soon palls. I don’t think she’s ‘exploring’ anything about the roles of family members; she simply had a good idea and ran with it. She has embellished the supporting verbiage and elevated it to theory-status but the work cannot sustain the top-heavy intellectual burden; it collapses into Gill-in-a-mask after the first half dozen instances. I had the opportunity to see her exhibition at the NPG along with the Claude Cahun photographs, which far outshone Wearing’s in the integrity department.