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At the end of a period of keeping a diary a plan for a self-portrait has been formulated. The chapter entitled ‘Mirrors and reflections’ in Liz Rideal’s book on self-portraiture (Rideal, 2005) was a starting point, where she states that ‘mirrors are a critical element in the language of self-portraiture’.  Another author writing on self-portraiture says of mirrors that:

Nobody really knows quite what he or she looks like. That privilege belongs to other people. All we have are the camera’s partial images and the intangible reflections of mirrors. And mirrors can only give as good as they get, after all, which is whatever we choose to give them: a face arranged to fit the mood of the moment, perhaps, to make us look as we feel, or would like to feel (Cumming, 2009: 138).

The mirror and the camera are similar in that they can ‘only give as good as they get … which is what we choose to give them’. However, when it comes to general self-portraiture, mirrors and specifically photographic self-portraiture one critical difference is evident. In painting:

It [the mirror] is the quite accomplice always there with an image from which to work, helpful and non-judgemental. One mirror may be needed, possibly two for a profile, sometimes more for a sculpture, but few are ever acknowledged in the finished work. Most self-portraits make no mention of this necessary aid, this bit of treated glass, which is after all only a tool (Cumming, 2009: 140).

In photography the mirror is rarely if ever the ‘quite accomplice’ and must of necessity be acknowledged in the finished work. Thus the self-portrait painted by James Sant (b. 1820) (Rideal, 2005: 22) (see fig. 1.) and the photographic self-portraits of for example Iise Bing (b. 1899) (Bright, 2010: 17) (see fig.2.) and Elina Brotherus (b.1958) (Boothroyd, 2014:74) (see fig.3.) form a rare continuum.

The use of the mirror for photographic self-portraiture continues apace – the query term ‘photography mirror self portraits’ entered into the Google search engine produced about 1,050,000 results (0.49 seconds), an unsurprising number (Kessels, 2012).


Boothroyd, Sharon (2014) Photography 1. Context and Narrative. Barnsley: OCA

Bright, Susan (2010) Autofocus. The self-portrait in contemporary photography. London: Thames & Hudson.

Cumming, Laura (2009) A Face to the World. On Sefl-Portraits. London: Harper Press

Kessels, Erik (2012) 24 hrs in photos. At: http://www.kesselskramer.com/exhibitions/24-hrs-of-photos (Accessed on: 10.02.15)

Rideal, Liz (2005) National Portrait Gallery, Insights, Self-portraits. London: National Portrait Gallery


List of Illustrations

Figure 1. Sant, James (1844) James Sant. At: http://ichef.bbci.co.uk/arts/yourpaintings/images/paintings/npg/624×544/npg_npg_4093_624x544.jpg (Accessed on: 10.02.15)

Figure 2. Bing, Ilse (1931) Self Portrait in Mirrors. [Gelatin silver print] At:  http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/1/19/Ilse_Bing_self_portrait_1931.jpg (Accessed on: 10.02.15)

Figure 3. Brotherus, Elina (2004) Model study 5. At: http://www.elinabrotherus.com/assets/photos/lores/model-studies/Model-Study-5.jpg (Accessed on: 10.02.15)