Category Archives: Putting yourself in the picture (part 3)

Learning outcomes (end of part three)

Learning outcomes (end of part three; putting yourself in the picture)

I have benefited a great deal from this part of the course and have enjoyed learning about self portraiture whether autobiographical, masquerading or self absented. I never thought I would say this, but I was looking forward to saying something about myself in assignment three, which is a huge leap forward from my initial shyness at the beginning of my studies.

Creation of images that demonstrate a practical and conceptual understanding of the appropriate use of techniques

Practically, for assignment three, I made use of a makeshift studio in my dining room. This was my first ‘go’ at setting the scene for a shoot in this way. I borrowed a main light that I could use instead of my tungsten house lighting as I didn’t want a warm yellow light. I also borrowed a black backdrop that I sellotaped to the wall and draped over my table. I wanted the box to be positioned identically in each image so I set the box on the backdrop and never moved it throughout the whole shoot. I changed the contents of the box carefully so as not to disturb the positioning. I set the camera on the tripod so that it didn’t move and the result was positional continuity throughout the series. I used a remote control shutter release to avoid moving the camera as I pressed the shutter and so that I could move out of the way to avoid reflections.

Conceptually, I understood that the idea was to say something about myself without showing myself directly. Like Shafran and his series Washing up, I chose everyday objects to say something about myself and used the wooden box to articulate how I feel that my life is made up of very separate compartments that together make up the main areas of my life.


Demonstration of an emerging critical awareness and ability to translate ideas into imagery

The exercise on recreating a childhood memory made me think about my idea and how to present it through photography. My idea was around a child’s tea-set that I remember receiving as a very young girl. It has stayed in my memory always as being a happy time and a perfect gift. In thinking how to represent this I considered it firstly in its box, as a gift would be; then I considered whether I should be present in the image, what the positioning of the crockery should be like, the focus, the background and so on and I remember trying to visualise the feeling I had as a girl at the time. The translation of the feeling into the image was tenuous as though it was there in my mind’s eye one minute and gone the next, but the important thing, whether I captured the memory accurately or not, was that I saw the start of being able to visualise an image in response to an idea.

Regarding the assignment, my idea of separate compartments in my life translated to using a physical wooden box to house all the paraphernalia associated with each category.  I felt that this translation of an idea into an image was more accurate and better executed that the childhood memories exercise as I engaged and recognised the idea from the finished photograph more readily.

Conduct research, development and production in response to the themes raised in this course

I have studied the whole of part three and have researched into some of the works of all the practitioners in this section. I feel that I have understood their approaches to portraiture under the categories of autobiographical, masquerades and self absented portraiture. I engaged with self absented portraiture for the assignment and, inspired by Shafran, used domestic items to say something about myself. 

I am very aware now that photographs need to say something and I have learned by studying Elina Brotherus, Graham MacIndoe and Richard Billingham particularly, that autobiographies (Brotherus and MacIndoe) and biographies (Billingham) are not purely the domain of the bookshelf but can be, and are, successfully articulated in images rather than words, as I hope I have proved in my assignment.


Show a critical understanding of contemporary imagery in relation to historical practice and theory

Photography is ever evolving and is influenced by works of prior periods whether by incorporating or by rejecting previous ideas and styles; as Modernism rejected the thinking of the Enlightenment, and Realism was challenged by Abstraction. When trying to think of examples to illustrate how contemporary imagery has been influenced by historical theory I wonder if  Francesca Woodman’s images can be likened to Expressionism’s distortion and sense of anxiety, with their surrealist approach that gives a sense of emotional distress. 

Image by Francesca Woodman


Additional development

I think I am getting braver and more inclined to take risks. With assignment three I have little idea of how it will be received but I know that I have submitted a series of images that i would never have thought about before and have eventually taken the risk that my EYV tutor encouraged last year.


Anna Fox (cockroach diary)

Cockroach Diary

Anna Fox’s Cockroach Diary includes photographs taken when there was an infestation of cockroaches in her home. The photographs are of the cockroaches themselves and of extracts from her diary, forming a self absented autobiographical portrait series.

The diary is handwritten and not only does it reflect on the state of the infestation but also reveals much about family life at the same time. The extract below has an authenticity about it, the pages are messy with crossings out which compliments the personal and frantic nature of the situation.

Sharon Boothroyd states that the Cockroach Diary became symbolic of the fractured environment, social structures and dysfunctional interpersonal relationships’ in Fox’s life (Boothroyd, S. 2014). We learn of many people in the household which gives us an insight into a busy environment with family and lodgers.

Ostensibly this diary is about an insect infestation but we learn more about the family dynamics. Fox is melodramatic, ‘I am absolutely frantic and threatening to leave home if somebody doesn’t do something about them’ and Kilt a little unsympathetic ‘he likes the roaches anyway’.

Anna Fox Cockroach Diary


Boothroyd, S (2014) Context and Narrative. Open College of the Arts.

Maria Kapajeva (a portrait of the artist as a young woman)

Maria Kapajeva

Maria Kapajeva’s series, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Woman, is an example of self portraiture where the subject is absent. Kapajeva has adopted this ‘self-absented’ approach by capturing images of her peers, those women that she admires and identifies with as having similar identities, opinions and values. Maria is a feminist who is not afraid to break with tradition; she has found a way to say something about herself by photographing like minded women with whom she associates.

As someone who is interested in literature I was curious as to why Kapajeva chose to identify with James Joyce’s title for her series. The novel is an example of Bildungsroman in literature and I can see this in Kapajeva’s statement; showing her formative years and awakening, questioning and rebellion against patriarchy. (like Joyce’s character questioned and rebelled against the Irish religious and cultural conventions he was born in to).

Kapajeva says that it ‘was very important for me to photograph these women in their own environment; studios, homes etc as I believe their own spaces add to the story’ (photoparley, 2018). I do think that the spaces represent each of the women and their individual circumstances and choices and from the setting we can consider them to be unique and realising their own potential in whatever field they chose.

A Portrait of the artist as a young woman can be seen here.



photoparley. (2018). Maria Kapajeva. [online] Available at: [Accessed 3 Jan. 2018].

Tracey Moffat (Scorpio)

Under the sign of Scorpio

Tracey Moffatt’s work centres around people born under the star sign of Scorpio. Boothroyd says that Scorpions ‘are supposed to be dark in nature and thrive on danger; they are unpredictable and often successful’. (Boothroyd, S, p80).

Moffatt set up a studio in her own home and dressed up and performed in the guise of different famous female Scorpions with the intention of paying tribute to the many extraordinary women born between October 23rd and November 21st; capturing their spirit and likeness.

Photograph by Tracey Moffatt

Billie Jean King

Moffatt, like Nikki S Lee, has used clothes and wigs to transform herself into another identity. The difference is that Moffatt transforms herself into a named and specific individual whereas Lee becomes just another member of a group.

Moffatt clearly identifies herself as a Scorpion, and, rather like Keith Greenough (who identifies himself as an iron man) she has a single one thing that defines her.


Boothroyd, S (2014) Context and Narrative. Open College of the Arts.

Endia Beal (Am I what you’re looking for?)

Endia Beal

I have just been reading the May 2017 issue of the British Journal of Photography and was very interested in the work of Endia Beal.

In light of recently researching Nikki S Lee and her work (Projects 1997-2001) where she adopts the persona of different sub cultures and ‘transforms’ herself into a ‘punk’ , a’ schoolgirl’  a ‘senior’, a ‘tourist’ or ‘skateboarder’. To do this she observed the groups’ appearance, dress, gestures and mannerisms in order to blend in with them and effectively change her identity to fit with theirs. Here is a link to my post on Nikki S Lee.

Beal in her work, ‘Am I what you are looking for’, approaches identity in the opposite way. Specifically highlighting women of colour and the prejudices they face in the work environment she asks her subjects to dress as they would for an interview. Instead of asking them to ‘transform’ themselves appropriately to fit into the corporate stereotype ‘box’ she is asking ‘which ‘box’ do I fit in to? Do I fit into the corporate image sufficiently for you to employ me? She is highlighting the effects of workplace discrimination against black women.

Photograph by Endia Beal

Am I what you are looking for?

The message from both these photographers is around stereotyping and, fitting in to different cultures; how, to be accepted (into the workplace, or the punk group) a person has to adopt the ‘appropriate’ appearance and codes (whether corporate or, or anti establishment, say).

Beale has also mixed things up a bit by asking two white women to dress in plain corporate clothes and asking them to attend a ‘black’ salon to have their hair styled. Beal is challenging what you are ‘supposed to look like in the workspace’ and is giving these white women an idea of the experience that she, as a black woman has encountered. (Slate Magazine, 2018)


Photograph by Endia Beal

Can I touch it?

It made me think again of the ‘boxes’ that I fit into personally. Sometimes I am in my ‘work box’ where I dress ‘for the office’ smartly, not revealing, freshly washed hair, perfume, handbag and so on and I speak and act in a professional way using accepted jargon that an outsider wouldn’t understand. Sometimes I am in my ‘gym box’. Casual tight clothes, gym bag, trainers (couldn’t wear these in the office despite their comfort), hair in a pony tail.

I am inspired to consider this further as a potential subject for assignment 3 Putting yourself in the picture.


Slate Magazine. (2018). Corporate Portraits of White Women With Black Hairstyles. [online] Available at: [Accessed 3 Jan. 2018].


Trish Morrissey (beach fronts and fake family units)

Trish Morrissey 

Sharon Boothroyd says of Trish Morrissey that she

found groups of family and friends  – strangers to her – on beachfronts in Britain and Melbourne, swapped clothing with one of the women and adopted their position with the family unit’

Morrissey’s images, which show a family group where one member of the group is a stranger (the photographer), highlights the photograph’s ability to blur fact from fiction. Morrissey has become a fictional member of a family group by inviting herself into a friends/family situation and taking the place of the matriarch. In effect she has created realistic ‘fake’ family snapshots.

‘Front’ pretending to be part of the gang


Boothroyd, S (2014) Context and Narrative. Open College of the Arts.

Mutantspace. (2017). Trish Morrissey Photographs: Front On The Beach | mutantspace. [online] Available at: [Accessed 29 Dec. 2017].

Nikki S Lee (sub cultures and transformations)

Nikki S Lee

Sharon Boothroyd says of Lee that she

finds subcultures, transforms herself physically and includes herself in the picture so that she blends in with the group and becomes one of them … for example she has ‘become’ a Chinese tourist, a Puerto Rican woman, a hip hop fan, a runner, a bride ….

Lee is questioning the authenticity of the photograph and just because she is portrayed as a hip hop fan or a bride doesn’t mean that she is one. It is just a photograph after all.

Projects (1997 – 2001) shows Lee immersed in different American sub cultures, taking on a different identity with each group she is with. This involved adopting the ‘codes’ of the group.

I remember being in a classroom as a teenager and the tutor explaining about society’s expectations of behaviour and the ‘social codes’ of certain situations. She asked how we would we feel and respond if we went to see a doctor and the doctor started dealing a pack of cards. It is something I remember years later and has reinforced the notion of how we are expected to behave depending on the situation we are in. Similarly, during my English degree we considered spoken codes and how we change our speech (style shifting) to be appropriate to the situation we are in.

In Lee’s image below, she has adopted an iconic punk style through her clothing and hair. I have no reason to suspect that she is not ‘genuine’ from this image; she certainly looks the part, which poses the question of the reliability of a photograph to portray the ‘truth’.


Nikki S. Lee The Punk Project (7), 1997

(, 2017)



Boothroyd, S (2014) Context and Narrative. Open College of the Arts. (2017). Nikki S. Lee. [online] Available at: [Accessed 29 Dec. 2017].

Peter Spurgeon (childhood memories, toys)

Peter Spurgeon

While researching the work of Jodie Taylor and her Memories of Childhood I came across the photographer Peter Spurgeon and his work on childhood toys and was interested in his work especially in light of an upcoming exercise on childhood memories. His work ‘Childhood’ can be seen here.

When thinking about how to approach this exercise to ‘recreate a childhood memory in a photograph‘ I repeatedly came back to a tea-set that I had as a four or five year old. This memory is very keen in my mind. Unwrapping the present, people watching, a happy atmosphere and the most beautiful tea set I had ever seen. I was grown up and  sophisticated. The perfect cups and saucers, tea plates and tray.

Spurgeon’s image of small wooden buildings (see link above) are set against a black background. The focus is on the toys themselves with nothing to distract the viewer’s attention. I have presented my tea set in a similar way, with a plain background and close up of the toy. I also chose to present the toy from my viewpoint, pouring the tea.

I purposely bought this child’s tea set for this exercise, and just looking at it brings me pleasure. As an adult I have a love of small tea plates that I am sure must come from my love of my first tea set. I can’t remember if it was a birthday gift or a Christmas present; I can just remember it, or rather I can remember having it. I was therefore very interested to research Peter Spurgeon who says of his project:

The Childhood project documents toys and other family objects. As well as a personal record of well-loved items prior to their disposal, the project invites the viewer to consider wider themes around memory, hoarding, family relationships and consumerism.

(Spurgeon, P. 2017)

Like Spurgeon’s images, I do think my tea-set provides a personal record of a well loved item and considers wider themes of memory and family relationships (my mother or grandmother choosing a gift carefully because they loved me and wanted me to be delighted) as well as how consumer items, rightly or wrongly, make people happy.


Spurgeon, P. (2017). Peter Spurgeon | Axisweb. [online] Axisweb. Available at: [Accessed 19 Nov. 2017].

Sally Mann (Family Pictures)

When looking at the work of Sally Mann I decided to concentrate on her series ‘Family Pictures’ in light of the subject of family portraits that we are researching at this point in the course.

To her, they were little more than tender, maternal photographs of her children. Yet to others, they were child pornography, and the mark of an irresponsible mother.

(American Suburb, 2017)

Sally Mann – Family Pictures

Popsicle Drips

Mann is another practitioner who has taken images of her three children, naked. Like Gearon, some of her images were criticised for being indecent. Opinion is divided. Some find the images disturbing, some find them to represent childhood in a realistic and honest way. I cannot say that I have ever struck a ballet pose while standing on the table in front of people without my clothes but perhaps other people do.

I feel that Mann’s image of her three young children standing next to each other in a line has a modelling photo shoot look about it, not a tender representation of childhood. These are very attractive children. Their poses and expressions are mature, not childlike.

I am also unconvinced about the maternal nature of ‘Popsicle Drips’. This is a young boy with liquid smeared from his waist to his knees. The image concentrates on this part of his body, no face, no arms, nothing else. I am not sure I can relate to a mother taking this image.

I have taken a look at a few other images and I will need a lot of persuading to see them as ‘tender, maternal photographs of her children’.

Dirty Jesse here

Jessie at five here complete with necklace, earrings and make up. Yes, the girl may have been dressing up and Mann may be exploring growing up. I assume the other two girls are also five.



AMERICAN SUBURB X. (2017). SALLY MANN:. [online] Available at: [Accessed 27 Dec. 2017].

Tierney Gearon (I am a camera)

I am a Camera

Gearon’s work, Like Billingham’s, often considers her family and in particular her children and also, like Billingham, she takes snapshots of everyday life.

In her contribution to the ‘I am a Camera’ exhibition, Gearon included several photographs of her two children, naked. Her images were displayed at the Saatchi Gallery in 2001 and were criticised for their content. Some said that they were indecent but she defended them saying that they were showing nothing but ‘the purity of childhood’ (the Guardian, 2017).

I am a camera – images

We do see ‘ordinary’ events in these images; days at the beach, relaxing by the pool, watching television and so on but there is a juxtaposed element of the disturbing in the masks that the children wear, the sword swallowing, the dead animal at the side of the road, the boy looking like a naked statue while an older woman looks at him. The images present normality on the one hand and the irregular on the other. Actually I am reminded of Blake’s collection of poems ‘Songs of Innocence and of Experience’ where he contrasts the innocence and ignorance of childhood with the  reality and truth (and corruption) of  adult experience.

The poolside image of the naked little boy with his fishing net and the older gentleman on his mobile is one image where I see the juxtaposition of innocence and experience. It seems that the boy wants to innocently play but the man with his serious expression has something to attend to.



the Guardian. (2017). Tierney Gearon defends her photographs. [online] Available at: [Accessed 27 Dec. 2017].