Monday, April 14, 2014

Further Self Examination


Self-Portrait @ 16, 1968
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I’m afraid you’re going to be seeing a lot more of me.
You can blame this on my artist friend Ellen. In the course of my “week of self-indulgence,” Ellen commented:
You are having fun with this idea, aren't you? I would be, too. Carry on! You will have quite the collection before you know it.”
You can also blame Ken, a poet and esteemed professor of poetry. Seeing this series of self-portraits, Ken recalled Edward Arlington Robinson’s poem Rembrandt to Rembrandt
I’ll confess that I probably haven’t read anything by Edward Arlington Robinson since high school. But I did track down and read Rembrandt to Rembrandt, even the obscure parts about Samson, Apollo’s house and the matter of some fifty Dutch florins. You can read it here. It opens with these lines:
And there you are again, now as you are.
Observe yourself as you discern yourself
In your credited ascendency;
Without your velvet or your feathers now,
Commend your new condition to your fate,
And your conviction to the sieves of time.
 I’ve neither velvet nor feathers. If I ever did they were probably metaphorical and I probably squandered them because I didn’t recognize them for what they were. Still, the encouragement of Ellen and Ken compelled me to go back through my archive of photographs and discover that my self-portraits aren’t just a recent phenomenon, but instead date back to my youth. Seen in sequence, they trace an interesting path of life.
This shouldn’t surprise me. If you hang around photography long enough, there are any number of themes you’ll pursue. Some you’ll recognize and some you won’t. The observational photographer will quietly, and sometimes without even noticing it, make vast series of photographs around specific themes or ideas and not discover what he’s been doing until the critical mass of images falls off the edge of his desk (and that’s no metaphor).
There’s no magic to my trove of self-portraits. Some were exercises in artistic curiosity or technical experimentation. Some are the result of being the designated family photographer, especially the designated family travel photographer, which means that when you travel you bring home lots of pictures, but you’re not in any of them.
When this happens, you start looking for reflective surfaces so that you can document that you were there. I took hundreds of pictures of Rome when my wife and daughter and I went there years ago. I’m pretty sure the only visual record of my presence on that trip, though, is a partial reflection in a silver coffee pot. 

Biannual Self-Portrait on Vanderbilt Ave, 2010

But seriously, you’ll just have to bear up with these images until they run their course. I don’t know if I’m trying to find something in them or something about myself or perhaps some higher artistic expression for them. All I can say for now is that I won’t know until they’re all out on the table.
I thank you for your patience.

Monday, April 7, 2014

A Week of Self-Indulgence. No, make that "Art."

Self-Portrait in Ring Light, 2014

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Where is the line between art and narcissism? Or should it be between narcissism and art?

Most photographers make photographs of things or of people. But some have made names for themselves by instead making photographs of themselves. Just recently The New Yorker magazine did aninteresting feature on photographers’ self-portraits.

I can’t think of anyone who’s taken self-portraiture to such  heights as Cindy Sherman, who dresses and changes her appearance to masquerade as different personas. Sherman’s work is widely admired and collected as high art, while most other self-portraits are not.

To be honest, it’s taken me a while to come around to seeing Sherman’s work as anything more than novelty, albeit extremely well done novelty. But then again I didn’t attend art school and frequently find myself giggling at a lot of the MFA-speak used in high photographic art and criticism circles. 

But having made fun of that, let me show just how shallow and inconsistent I can be by sharing some of my own self-portraits. My contributions to this oeuvre are not exactly “selfies,” though they are in many cases impromptu. But neither are they high art in the “Let’s reach into the makeup drawer and dress-up box” context of Cindy Sherman.

Mine are experiments. They’re technical exercises, rather than conceptual explorations of self. Some are about place and others are about lighting. In New York recently I found myself taking a lot of pictures of myself in reflection of other people’s art. That’s about as high concept as it gets with me right now. 

I’m presenting these in the interest of displaying my experimentation. If you’re inclined to see these images as self-indulgence or, more seriously, the onset of a serious narcissism, you’ll just have to bear with it. The practical fact is that on most days I’m the only model I have. So you’re going to see a lot of me.


Self-Portrait in Mark Rothko, 2014


Self-Portrait in Donald Judd, 2014


Self-Portrait @ Christie’s, 2014


Self-Portrait @ ICP, 2014