Self Portraits

As you know I’m primarily a wedding and portrait photographer, though I also do some media and PR work as well as photographing for a number of charities.

As a photographer however I also think it’s important to undertake personal projects and to have a focus on doing something different, something purely for my own interest. In the past, for example, portrait projects have included representing concepts such as ’loneliness’ and ‘isolation’ and, ‘The Face the Story’, a study of the hidden and extraordinary life of everyday people we would normally pass in the street on a daily basis.

This year I my project will be ‘self-portraits’

What is a self-portrait and why do you want to do that? I hear you ask.

A self-portrait is a representation of an artist, drawn, painted, photographed, or sculpted by the artist. Although self-portraits have been made by artists since the earliest times, it was in the Early Renaissance in the mid-15th century that artists could be frequently identified depicting themselves as either the main subject, or as important characters in their work.

In fact the earliest known panel portrait is thought to be ‘Portrait of a Man in a Turban’ by the artist Jan Van Eyck (1433). (Who incidentally  was also considered to be one of the early masters of oil painting and painted the wonderful ‘The Betrothal of the Arnolfini’ it’s an amazing painting and well worth a look, note the amazing detail in the reflection in the mirror)

Other famous artists who have painted self-portraits include, Vincent Van Gogh, Frida Kahlo, Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse.

The earliest photographic self-portrait, a daguerreotype, is thought to be that of American photographer Robert Cornelius around in 1839 and it’s a trend which has continued throughout photographic history.

Today of course, in the age of digital photography,  and  with the advent of the camera phone self- portraits  are more popular than ever, even leading to the introduction of a new word / phrase – ‘the selfie’.  Usually practiced as a form of autobiography, a journal documenting an event or happening.

So why do people make self-portraits? That’s a good question and having decided it was going to be my project for the year it was important for me to think about why.

On the pages of the National Portrait Gallery web site there is an article on ‘making a self-portrait’ and it suggests a number of reasons why artists / photographers make them, these include;

Analysis: A self-portrait is an exploration of your face, body and personality.

Authorship: A self-portrait is an historical record of the person that made it, left behind for posterity.

Autobiography: A self-portrait can be a visual journal documenting something that is happening or has happened in your life.

Advertising: A self-portrait is a demonstration of style and skill to show prospective clients.

Availability: A self-portrait can be a way to experiment with pose and technique using a readily available model.

I think all of these reasons have some validity, some more than others, though of course this may change over time and particularly over the course of my study / project.

At present though it is the latter two which hold strongest, ‘Advertising’ and ‘Availability’.  Along with shooting self-portraits I want to explore, experiment and develop other skills such as lighting, posing and compositing, creating images from multi exposures. Using myself as a model will allow me to readily do this.

I already have a lot of ideas about things I want to do, but doing a project like this is also a great opportunity to learn from others and so I shall be looking for inspiration from other photographers. In fact I recently fascinated by the work of Francesca Woodman

and Vivian Maier  give them a look, see what you think.

OK then, time to ‘walk the talk’ as they say and produce the goods, here are my first attempts. As the weather is so dreadful at the moment I thought I would start off with something simple indoors in the studio.

Since they were ‘portraits’ traditionally taken to hang on the wall I thought I would start off having a bit of fun with a picture frame, this also gave me a chance to have a bit of fun in post-production with a little bit of compositing.


A self portrait of Tony Sale


Portrait photography - a self portrait


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Self Portraits
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