Exercise: Autobiographical self-portraiture

For this exercise we are asked to look at Francesca Woodman, Elina Brotherus and Gillian Wearing and do some research on these photographers. We are then asked to consider the following questions:

How do these images make you feel?

I find I identify best with Brotherus’s images. They are true and honest in an understated manner. Woodman’s images are experimental, well constructed and very representative of a young woman trying to find herself. I can’t really relate to Wearing’s images as I feel that the masks create a barrier between her and the viewer. They come across as emotionless.

Do you think there’s an element of narcissism or self-indulgence in focusing on your own identity in this way?

I don’t think narcissism can be applied to these three photographers. Interestingly the online dictionary (US English) defines narcissism as: excessive or erotic interest in oneself and one’s physical appearance, while the British English’s definition is: excessive interest in or admiration of oneself and one’s physical appearance – a very subtle difference between the two definitions. I don’t think self-indulgence plays much of a role either, as the one model you never have to pay and who is always handy when you need him/her is yourself.

What’s the significance of Brotherus’s nakedness?

I believe Brotherus’s nakedness is a reflection of the honesty that runs through all her images. Its an expression of her vulnerability and serves as a ‘decluttering’ mechanism in images where clothing would complicate the reading of the photograph in a similar fashion as when one chooses to shoot monochrome instead of colour.

Can such images ‘work’ for an outsider without accompanying text?

I think for the most part viewers can read a photograph well without text. While they may not understand it fully as the photographer initially intended, they will apply their own cultural perspective and experiences when reading the images. Images like those of Wearing’s self-portraits, however, I think will be difficult to understand without any accompanying text.

Do you think any of these artists are also addressing wider issues beyond the purely personal?

Elina Brotherus is definitely addressing wider issues that go beyond the personal. Her Annunciation series addresses the question of infertility and the emotional aftermath of failed IVF treatments. Her Suites françaises 2 series addresses the difficulties (and humour) of transplanting oneself in a foreign country without knowing the culture or the language. Some of Woodman’s images suggest a disturbed state of mind which in turn raises the question of mental illness. Wearing’s Album series is concerned with family relationships.

Reference List

Oxford Dictionaries [online]. Available from: http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/us/definition/american_english/narcissism [Accessed 3 October 2015]

Oxford Dictionaries [online]. Available from: http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/us/definition/english/narcissism [Accessed 3 October 2015]


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