Saturday, May 29, 2010

Emotional Landscapes

From the time there were photographic portraits, there have been self portraits; that desire in humans to capture their own essence. And perhaps not only a desire to capture oneself, but an unmistakable desire to share one self as well!. In a sense, a self portrait is a desire, therefore, to be experienced by others.

When I create a self portrait I often ask myself this question: “Which part of me am I eager to have others experience today?” I’ve noticed that the parts of my being that feel the most unattended or unheard are often the ones that rise to the surface in my photographs. For example, if I am feeling sad one day, and unheard in my sadness, I may set out to create a rather melancholic, dark image of myself. I believe that in sharing that image, I invite others to validate the very sadness that drove me to create the image in the first place. In this context, I’ve found that it is almost an existential urge that drives me to create one self-portrait after another.

In exploring with sharing my self-portraits, I’ve uncovered a rather dynamic and even seductive dialogue that exists between the artist and her audience. I can’t think of anything more exciting, for example, than sharing feelings of mine through the creation of a photographic image, and having my images elicit equally strong emotional responses in others. Admittedly, I find something nearly addictive in this!

Especially satisfying to me is when I portray challenges or struggles I am feeling in my life through a self-portrait, and then, that portrait is amazingly appreciated by others. It is almost as if I am being told that my life’s struggles are worthy ones; and even beautiful ones at times!

This reminds me of Hippolyte Bayard’s famous self portrait entitled “Drowned Man”:

Taken in 1840, it is the first known self-portrait ever created, and interestingly narrates the tragic story of the utter desolation and discouragement he was experiencing at the time, as it depicts him dead. In it Bayard successfully paints an emotional landscape of himself rather than showing the external spaces and settings he lived in. Bayard manages to take what he was feeling on the inside and communicate it on the surface of his famous photograph. Although his self-portrait is one of feigned suicide, the public instantly found it beautiful! Perhaps in appreciation for the vulnerability an artist offers when they give themselves fully to a self-portrait.

I can certainly relate to Bayard’s need to express the inner world of feelings and emotions through images, no matter how disturbing those feelings may be. To me, being able to reveal what is normally invisible, through the creation of a photograph, can feel quite empowering! I aim to continue to reach deep inside myself and translate my feelings into images; hopefully adding to the history of self portraits that communicate the essence of our human experience, no matter how difficult it may be at times.

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