Auto Focus: The Self-Portrait in Contemporary Photography – A Book every Artist should read

“What does the Self in self-portrait actually mean? Historically the self-portrait has been defined or understood as representation of emotions, an outward expression of inner feeling, penetrating self analysis and self contemplation that might bestow an immortality of sorts upon the artist”.1AutoFocus

Auto Focus features a wide variety of self-portraits made by seventy-five of the world’s leading contemporary photographers. Photography writer and curator Susan Bright gives us a thorough guide through this significant and dynamic genre; showing how issues of identity, whether national, sexual, racial, personal, or artistic, are key to understanding the work of many of today’s leading photographers. The book opens with historic context of the art of self-portraiture, which, I believe, helps to set up the reader for the art that follows. Together with the beautiful photographs are explanations, thoughts, and ideas about the photographer behind, and in front of, the camera that help the reader engage further.

Auto Focus is organized into five themed chapters, which are: autobiographical images; pictures of the body; the use of masks and masquerade; the return to studio portraiture and the photographic album; and performance, both public and private.

From intimate images of introspection, which challenge ideas of identity, gender, ethnicity and sexuality; to dramatic, more stylized images of dreamlike scenarios – Auto Focus examines a place where the self, voyeurism, and exhibition beautifully collide…Showing how one of the longest recognized artistic genres continues to fascinate artists today.

Personally, I truly believe there’s something very special about self-portraiture, as an art form. And it’s contrast to today’s sea of narcissistic social network celebrities (yes I’m aware that I fit in that group), can bring up very interesting conversations about representation of one’s self when talking about present widespread websites such as Facebook, which promote photography as an essential tool of the online communication. It is important to consider while analyzing self-portraiture that it is a compulsion or maybe even an obsession, for almost everyone with a camera, artists or not, to turn it on to themselves…a photographer or artist that has not taken a picture of themselves, is a very rare thing.  Although we must be very conscious of the difference between these images being really self-portraits or just pictures that people take of themselves.

There a lot that goes into a self-portrait, for an artist, I believe is important to self portray in order to know yourself or even create a new self. Some artists use the self-portrait as a source of impersonation, invention, creation or masquerade, showing how malleable the self can really be. This raises questions about personification, becoming someone else, creating a new character, to present everything but the “real” self. The idea of the self-portrait can be easily flipped. Some photographs that we consider self-portraits might actually not show the actual artist. It can be argued that all photographs are self-portraits as the photographer projects themselves on to their image. The self-portrait sometimes can also be a simple moment of their own shadow or an even more globalized self within the universe. Many artists have turned to themselves to metaphorically address issues of national identity in a more globalized world.

So, what really goes into the self-portrait?  Is it really a window into the soul of the artist?  Or is it a mirror that reflects back unto the viewer? Or is the Artist making themselves a vessel for more important worldwide discussions?

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