My Self-Portraits: History, Nostalgia, Technique and Intention

Believe it or not, the very first self-portrait I ever took was with a pin-hole camera that I made in 10th grade photography class, circa 1990. It was quite an artsy photo. I then completed a series of really cool black and white pin-hole camera self portraits taken under a willow tree. I’m sad to say that I have no idea where those photographs ended up. They’ve been packed up and moved about 26 times since then - they could be anywhere in Ontario, British Colombia or Illinois - safe to say they’ve most likely disappeared forever. I’ve loved looking at photographs ever since I was a young child. I found my mother’s old family photographs from the early 1900’s Europe to be completely fascinating. And the photographs in my National Geographic magazines, such as “The Afghan Girl” were so powerful and provocative. Print ads, like my favorite from Benetton in the early 80s featured portraits of humanity's “colors”, and beautiful faces. Although the internet did not really exist back then, I had no lack of creative sources and influences.

I started taking self portraits because I rarely liked photographs of myself taken by others. I’d look at these photos and think, “that is not what I look like in the mirror”, and it was definitely not how I saw myself either. It began with the awful school photos from those cheesy mobile portrait studios. Not one was ever flattering; I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who thought this. The photographers did not understand their subjects at all - or perhaps it was because they just didn’t have the time. The lighting was always terrible, and the styling was the fault of that particular decade in time.

My biggest inspiration today for my self-portrait photography, is the work of Frida Kahlo. Though she was a painter, she painted herself during the most emotional moments of her life. There is a story behind every painting, and you can sense her state of being in each piece of art. I’ve studied them extensively. From the times of physical pain, to the emotional pain, to the moments where she felt beautiful and powerful. She illustrates both her feminine and masculine side; her sexuality, her connection with nature, her cultural influences, and symbolism, all peppered with an exceptionally healthy dose of drama. I feel I know her and understand her through these paintings. I can almost say that Frida and I are soul sisters. 

Over the years, many of my self-portraits were a form of expression and self-healing. Chanelling some light energy as well as most of my dark energy into self-portraits. I experiment with color, shapes, texture, and light, but most of all, I experiment with emotion. Some of the most powerful images I have created were when I was feeling the most vulnerable. These days, my goal is to try and document as many feelings or emotions that I can; when I’m feeling happy, angry, sad, sexy, beautiful, or even silly. If I have the time that day and I have the means to create a portrait, I will do it, as long as I am feeling motivated (that is the catch). The best part of self-portraiture is that you need not rely on any other person to create, you have everything you need from within. 

Very often, I create to escape, which I feel is a much better option than escaping to a local drinking hole, as some people do. Creating art is therapeutic. Redirecting energy into an art project delivers a dose of natural dopamine to the body. Without getting too scientific, I will admit that my best work is usually produced either during my brightest, or my darkest days - one of the two extremes. In the end, I always end up on a positive note.

The latter is “why” I create self-portraits, but there is also the “how” I create them. I often use the latest iPhone camera (but not how most people use it). There are many creative iOS apps that can be used for editing on the go, I truly enjoy the iPad Pro with pencil for developping and creating artful images. My website is full of iPhoneography (and if you hate that, I really don’t care). Recently, I’ve been using my Canon 6D with self-timer or hand held trigger. Taking self-portraits is also a great way to learn how to light a face and how facial expressions work for the camera. It’s not at all how one would see themselves in a mirror. Showing emotion in a portrait is tricky because it can sometimes look ridiculous. That is truly why one would find the value in having a seasoned portrait photographer.  Self-portraiture can also be quite comical; for instance, most recent series of portraits where I pose nude with a floral vine wrapped around my body. I did not have a trigger that day and relied on a self-timer. Imagine, shoving the vine between your crevaces, hitting the timer and painstakingly hopping to position yourself in front of the lens with only a split second left to pose your body in an ever so slightly flattering position - all in the name of art. My former husband used to say; “Wow, great capture, how many shots did you need to take to get that one?” Of course, I told him it was only ever two or three at the most. (More like two, or three dozen).

In 2015, twenty-five years after my first self-portrait from a handmade pin-hole camera, I was included in my very first juried selected group photography exhibit in Budapest, Hungary. It included my self-portrait, Transcendentwhich I created after being utterly inspired from visiting the David Bowie exhibition; and that was when I hit my momentum. I continue to document ‘me’, in an on-going life long self-portraits project - a personal history of sorts. Photographs that illustrate my true colors - photographs of my raw self. Naturally, in time, I intend to capture self-portraits together with my love and life partner. I am looking forward to this part. As Frida painted self-portraits together with her beloved Diego. My collection would not be complete without the love of my life.