Selfie11-5-11 © 2011 Adrien Meredith Hefta. All rights reserved.

Self Portraits

Today is Saturday, the day I make self-portraits. I don’t only make them on Saturdays, but I do always make one on Saturdays. (Since February, that is.) I thought maybe I’d run out of places in my house to shoot, but today I looked around and saw some great light coming through the southern facing window of my dining room. I sat down on the floor, allowing the sun to hit me in profile and started snapping away. I used a hand held mirror to check for composition, but I still couldn’t quite see what I was getting until I looked at the results. This was my favorite. I edited it a tiny bit with Iris, but otherwise, it’s not too far from what I got with Hipstamatic, my iPhone and a strong ray of light.

Why do {some} artists make so many self-portraits? The answer is more complicated than simple vanity. There’s a long tradition of artists using their own image in their work, going back to the earliest of times. Painters in the Renaissance would often include their own likeness in paintings, such as in a gathering of people, a crowd in front of the Madona and Child, perhaps. The painter (and/or the patron of the commissioned work) would be included in the audience. Rembrandt was famous for his many self-portraits made over the course of his lifetime. These typically showed him at work, paintbrush in hand, painting his own likeness. Then there are the more well known modern artists who used their art to tell the story of their psychological suffering, such as the bandaged ear of Van Gogh and Frida Kahlo’s hauntingly beautiful images of physical pain.

The act of painting a portrait is much more time consuming than opening the lens of a camera. That being said, it is still a lot easier to use ourselves as models even with the ease of cameras over oil paint. We don’t have to schedule someone to be our model.  I don’t typically schedule my self-portraits. I make them when the mood hits or I have the time. And I’m always here.

It turns out, at least for me, friends don’t make good models. I have always struggled with photographing other people. It’s not my nature to be demanding of another person, to “direct” them into the best light or set them up in a tableau. I’m uncomfortable with it, so I assume they are uncomfortable with it, too. I know how awkward it can be to have your photo taken and to see the results. We never quite look the way we thought we did. I don’t wish to disappoint the subject when they see the result and it’s not what they had envisioned. I can, however, use own face or body over and over again, knowing that it’s a work in progress. I’m not afraid to make myself look “monstrous” or freaky. I’m willing to take creative risks with myself as subject that I wouldn’t with others.

Finally, I think it’s a natural desire to express one’s self with one’s own image. Who are we? What are we trying to convey with our art? Figures, and especially faces, are immediately recognizable. The art of a great a portraitist is commendable and enviable. But the art of a self-portraitist is easy, once you let go of the fear of expression.

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