“Autofocus: the self-portrait in contemporary photography” – Susan Bright

Autofocus

Just read this – Susan Bright – “Autofocus: the self portrait in contemporary photography” (Thames & Hudson, London, 2010).  First point to make is that it’s my first ‘borrow’ from the Huddersfield University Library, having joined for £25 pa, as a Public Member.  It’s a good scheme; Huddersfield runs a Photography degree, so reasonably well stocked with relevant books and I can borrow up to five books at a time, for two weeks, with online access to their search facility (from home) and the facility to renew/reserve online, should I wish.

This book is on the extended reading list for Level Three modules, but I specifically looked at it as a possible source of context and ideas for the notion of a major project based along the lines discussed at the end of this earlier post – here.  To some extent, ‘context’ is for Contextual Studies, and the confirmed guidelines are that there must be a clear distinction between the two modules when it comes to Assessment, so any detailed discussion, should it be relevant, will come there.  But I’m sure I can, at least, say that this is a very useful ‘survey’ of the use of the self-portrait by contemporary photographically-based artists, with a little bit of history thrown in for context, and a reasonably broad definition of what constitutes a self-portrait.  She sub-divides the ‘genre’ into five headings – Autobiography; Body; Masquerade; Studio & Album; and Performance – but there is inevitable overlap and flexibility.  It has certainly introduced me to several artists/work that I had not seen before, some using ‘Masquerade’ & ‘Studio & Album’ in interesting ways, such as Aneta Grzeszykowska, Tomoko Sawada‘ and Yasumasa Morimura; as well as some that I already knew of, such as Joan Foncuberta & Gillian Wearing.

Reading this book, and reflecting on my idea for a project stemming from the ‘Newsbook, has fired my imagination in all sorts of directions as to what this project could be.  What if I ‘invent’ a number of alternative, present day persona, directly related to pages from the ‘Newsbook’ and then create a series of contemporary self-portraits of me as those persona?  [Bishop Stanley Dickinson; Stan the farmer worker, who stayed in the village (and who might be deceased!); Stan the radical left-wing activist; Stan the forgotten pop lyricist; and so on!]. What if I then construct, through images or whatever, the back story for those persona?  What if those back stories all take different forms?  A newspaper article about the Bishop; a family album and/or Facebook page about the farm worker; a police file about the activist; a blog about the lost lyricist; and so on …  The possibilities for such a project are considerable, which excites me a lot.

Then back to feet on the ground and what might be achievable!  I think I’m approaching a point where I need to formalise a few ideas ‘on paper’ to share with Clive before moving much further forward.  At the moment, my thinking is best summarised along these lines:

  • I remain committed to the idea that my work will explore the boundaries and potential of digital image-making;
  • Extending the still-life exploration also interests me – with the added possibilities associated with the first bullet point above;
  • There is, I feel sure, good potential in looking at ways of extending the use of found images, collages, studio constructs etc, to respond to ‘events’ – as I began to do in my final Level Two assignment;
  • And now, I can see lots of opportunity to create work that explores photography’s ability to construct narrative and identity – initiated by the Newsbook, but then brought up to date with some form of self-portraiture.

I wonder whether, actually, these points can define my way forward.  I need to share and seek input from my tutor.

 

 

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