I take a lot of pictures of myself. I take them for work and for pleasure; to keep for myself or to put on Instagram; to show a friend an outfit or to tease a lover with a glimpse of my body. ‘Selfies’ have become a mainstay in the discussion about vanity and the millennial obsession with documenting our lives, but the concept of self-portraiture is nothing new.
Artists have been making themselves the focus of their work for centuries, and from Van Gogh’s prolific representations of himself to Frida Kahlo’s bold creations, some of the most iconic works of art are self portraits.
I was discussing the wonderful artist Catherine Opie with a lover recently, whose work frequently depicts her friends in the lesbian and gay community in Los Angeles, mixing traditional portrait photography with less traditional subjects. The piece we were looking at was her work, Self-Portrait/Pervert. It is a powerful piece, and we sat for a while, thinking about how we would choose to show ourselves in such a way. The power of the self-portrait is just that – it shows you how you want to be seen. It can be brutally honest or it can conceal, tell a story or simply mark a fleeting moment in the artist’s consciousness.
We’re told by the media that ‘selfies’ are damaging, that they encourage us to be vain and self-absorbed, but is this really the case? To have the ability to present yourself in a certain way can be deeply empowering, especially for people who do not see themselves otherwise represented in the media. They’re also fun, playful – a way to show off for someone, to flirt. They show another side to us, and offer an intimacy which frequently lacking in our interactions.
Some of my favourite pictures of me are those I’ve taken myself – they might not be the best quality, or the most elegantly composed, but to me, they represent a striking level of comfort and peace with my own image. As someone who, like many young women, has frequently struggled with her body image, that feeling is a powerful one.
So, if you don’t already, I highly recommend you start taking more pictures of yourself. You don’t have to show anyone else – but the process itself is one which can help you really get to know yourself on a different level. And if you need some tips, well, we can always take some together…