Last year I was asked by The Stewartry Camera Club to give a talk to their members about Portrait Photography. It seemed to go down well and I was asked back this year to talk about self-portraits and to set a competition, which I did on Wednesday.
In some ways, self-portraits can be seen as one of the most challenging forms of photography for most photographers, because there are significant obstacles to overcome on 2 levels.
The first is to do with the technical difficulties in getting the exposure, composition and focus right when you can’t actually look through the lens – at least if you want to avoid the cliché of just standing in front of the mirror with your camera in front of your face.
Cliché number 1
So you have to try and get everything set up then either set the timer, run round, get into place and adopt the right posture and expression before the camera goes click, or you need something like a cable or remote release that allows you to trigger the shutter from a distance – at least if you want to avoid the other cliché of holding the camera at arms length and just pointing it at you.
Cliché number 2
However, in many ways the far bigger challenge is in deciding how you wish to portray yourself to the world.
It’s one thing for other people to take your photo – it is their interpretation of you in that moment. But if you are taking it yourself, you have to make the final decision about how you want to appear. Intelligent? Sexy? Cool?
However, the problem with trying to look cool, for example, takes us back to those dilemmas from our teens. Cool people seem to be effortlessly cool. People trying to be cool are inherently un-cool. So how do you make yourself look cool without looking like you’re trying to make yourself look cool? The risk of ridicule if you get it wrong is gut-knotting.
Trying too hard
The reality is that while most people are wary about having their photo taken in case they look awful, most photographers feel this even more intensely. Indeed, for many, one of the primary advantages of holding the camera is precisely so you don’t have to be in the image. So to tell an audience of camera club members that I wanted them to turn the device on themselves was never going to be an easy sell.
However, I did my best to try and fill them with enthusiasm for the idea, primarily pushing the notion of photography as storytelling. It can be like having your own dressing up box – you can pretend to be whomever you want.
And once you move away from the suggestion that it has to be some kind of accurate representation, and into the idea of performance and play, then the possibilities for creativity and fun open up massively.
I don’t know how many will enter the competition. I know it will push almost all of them completely out of their comfort zone, but I feel the experience of doing it will be all the more rewarding because of that.
In about 3 weeks I’ll be given the submissions to look through and judge, and in the 2nd half of February, I’ll be going back to announce the winners.
Although anyone who is brave enough to overcome their reluctance and actually enter is already a winner in my eyes.
And if you have 5 minutes to spare, below is a video about the making of the Lavazza (coffee) 2012 Calendar, where they asked 12 famous photographers to create self-portraits. Each had a very different take on the concept.
The LAVAZZERS 2012 from Eugenio Recuenco on Vimeo.