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Photography

Are self-portraits narcissistic?

During Sue Bryce fine art workshop, where I photographed a self-portrait in front of the internet audience, someone asked an interesting question : Do you think people will judge you as being a very self centered person? 

I was really surprised by the question, because I never thought of myself like this. I answered that the people who know me won’t think that because they know I am not like that at all. The people who will judge me badly obviously don’t know anything about  me, so I don’t really care what they think. 

I did not start taking self-portrait because I wanted to show my face: I started to take self-portrait because I needed to learn photography! I experimented a lot (and I am still now) and I didn’t want to bother a model everyday. I could have someone once in a week, but not exactly when I wanted, not in the middle of the night, not even in the day when everyone else was working in their daily job. So I started to take pictures of myself. And I realized I had A LOT of things that I wanted to tell in my pictures, and it was my story, so it had to be me in the pictures (maybe not but this is the way I feel). So this is how I started my « self-portrait therapy ». I never stopped, even when I feel like « I am getting to old for this » (slap me, I KNOW) or some day when I just feel like crap and I don’t want to see more of myself.

One of my first self-portrait back in 2014. I remember it as a fun afternoon playing with speedlights in my kitchen while my housemates were at work! 

Because, yes, when you take a self-portrait, trust me, you can see your flaws. Like all of them, even some that you were not aware even existed! So, trust me it’s not narcissism, because there is no one harder on yourself than yourself. 

So I started to ask myself, it this a normal thing to take self portraits? 

What I think is REALLY INTERESTING, is that from all times, artists always represented themselves: there are numerous self portraits in the History of Art, and this, for A LONG TIME (like ancient Egypt paintings and sculptures, ancient Greek vases, etc). Although, it’s really around the European Renaissance (XVth century) that artists really startet experimenting with this technique. They are many reasons for self portraits, and one of them was the artist could not afford to pay for a model: we can imagine painting could take weeks and even months, so it was cheaper to buy a mirror and to learn the techniques and train by themselves. (something familiar here mmh). 

Rembrandt is really famous for his dozens of self portraits, and he painted himself all life long. I love his paintings (the guy invented a new way of seeing light, that’s something!)), he is not being easy on him, he represents himself as an old man, and we can feel the texture on his skin and the weight of the years. And I don’t think anyone told him he was being narcissistic, for sure! 

Rembrandt, Self Portrait with Beret and Turned-Up Collar, 1659.

There were dozens of artists who played with self-portraits, you can check their work if your are curious about the subject: among them Picasso, of course Van Gogh, Gustave Courbet, Goya, Degas, Delacroix, Renoir, Matisse, etc etc. 

One of my favorite self portraits of all time is from Frida Kahlo : she is a Mexican painter, and had an accident that handicapped her all her life. She had a mirror installed on her bed, just above her, and she painted self portraits. I think she has a really cruel and hard vision of herself, and is she is not representing herself as « beautiful » . She represents her pain and story. (if you haven’t watched the movie about her life, go see it, it’s really great!).

Frida Kahlo, The Broken Column, 1944.

I think we are living on a culture where pictures are everywhere, and selfies are just a norm: we are judging girls who takes a lot of selfies, we feel that there is something narcissistic about that, and we don’t really understand the limits between selfies and self-portrait. I mean, even Kim Kardashian has a book of selfies, so is this becoming a new form of art? Or was it always there? Interestingly enough, the first photographic portrait that was ever taken was a self portrait. 

Robert Cornelius, 1839 (!!)

So I would say to end this (I could talk for hours on the topic), if you hesitate about doing self portraits: DON’T HESITATE. Just do it, people won’t judge you, it’s normal as a creator to explore different things, and self portraits are a great great way to experiment. Plus, if you don’t like the pictures, remember no one has to see them in the end, you only share what you really want to share. 

Bonus : you really needed Andy Warhol self portraits shot with Polaroid films in your day. Don’t ask me why, I just know it 😉 

   

Creative Making of Photography

A cold, wet, dark and AWESOME photoshoot- PART 1

This full story was written by Benoit, the model for this picture. 

With Pauline and her camera, you’ll always end-up naked somewhere. In an attic, in a flower tray or somewhere else.

This time, it’s during a walk in the middle of the forest, that we came across something that led us to a new creative project. A lost pond, a few ducks and grandmas feeding them with bread. That’s all Miss Big Nostrils needed to picture me in the middle of it. The idea was simple. Trudging in the pond, naked (again) in front of her camera’s watchful eye. Fate led us to this watering place in autumn, and after thinking about it and taking the time to go for it, it was already December, « Yay, Hello freezing temperatures! ». Dawn’s light and morning fog should bring more inspiration to the atmosphere. So let’s set the alarm clock at 5am, though it’s seems unbearable for the unemployed person that I am. So as we noticed when we arrived, the mist on the lake in the morning, is a big joke!

A lively red car, a flapping wing mirror and old duct tape holding it, that’s her good old Ford Ka. After a kiss on the cheek and a hot coffee, here we are, parked on the D284 road, in the middle of St-Germain en Laye’s forest, small city of the Yvelines département, 30 min away from the Capital. It now seems obvious, that in a few minutes, I’ll be freezing my ass off in an 8°C water. The sun is far from rising and we’re walking in pitch black quietly, as two (almost) normal employees would do. When we get to the pond, we need about 10 seconds to understand that we got here way too early. Though it’s very very dark, the place is really quiet, and we can only hear the distant humming of the road.

90 minutes fly away, just the time to catch sight of a bold jogger, equipped with a headlamp (I’ll tell you there are weird people) and to notice that the ducks are asleep in the trees and not on the pond. The day begins and the mallards land on the pond, one by one, on a slightly unclear water. Time’s up! We’re about to start the shooting session. We need to hurry-up since the particular dawn light does not last for long. After running 3 times all around the pond and a few push-ups as a warm-up later, it’s time to go into the water. What the hell am I doing here? It’s easier to get in than I thought. I’m moving carefully in the pond. It’s not that deep. The water is a bit oily and stinks of gasoline, but lucky me! I get to keep my pants on this time.

The first pictures are essential to « get  » the moment and to adjust the light, set the right angle, and it’s only after deciding to dive into the water that it becomes interesting. I’m all wet now. There’s always this idea of a non-idea. What can I do? How should I act? What is she waiting from me? What’s coming out of these? I’m following her advice with caution. The walkers are a simple curiosity when the cold starts to pierce my body. There’s nothing I can find in this pool. Yet I try to find something. I’m searching. I’m observing. The ducks look more comfortable than me. They even act like gentlemen and do not look at me. After all, it’s everyone’s pool. I look at Pauline. I look up. I look down. I look at my hands. I look at me. I’m shaking. Fuck it’s cold. Very cold. It’s been 30 min in the water, and 10 min freezing my ass off, while I keep delaying the time to go out of the water. We never know, maybe the next picture will be the right one. 400 clicks later, it’s time to go out. I’m confident. I intimately know that Pauline will get the image she wants. And it doesn’t matter if that’s not the case. Because I’m here for this talented and enthusiastic blondie. Her projects are stories. So that’s a pleasure to dive into this pond, in the middle of the forest, at 8am, during winter.
 
With Pauline and her camera, you’ll always end-up naked somewhere. In an attic, in a flower tray or somewhere else.