In Laura Cumming’s book on self-portraiture the chapter entitled ‘Mirrors’ opens with a full page reproduction of the painting, by the 16th century Italian artist Parmigianino, ‘Self-portrait in a Convex Mirror’ (see fig.1.). As Cumming explains:
Parmigianino had a ball of wood turned on a lathe and sliced in two by a carpenter to produce a hemisphere of identical proportions to the original mirror: a counterpoint on which to paint the facsimile of that mirror (Cumming 2009: 136)
In this way Parmigianino mimics many photographic self-portraits that utilise mirrors to reproduce a likeness of the artist, that is, the mirror itself is an essential, intrusive participant, when viewing the picture there is no escaping it. In terms of technique a conventional example is Yasumasa Morimura’s (b. 1951) ‘Self-portrait (Vivien holding camera)’ (see fig. 2.). However, Morimura has disguised himself as a Western movie actress making the self-portrait anything but conventional (Sobieszek, 1999; 229). The image is part of a series of self-portraits in which Morimura convincingly portrays the roles of legendary screen actresses such as Audrey Hepburn, Ingrid Bergman, and Greta Garbo.
My thoughts on producing a photographic self-portrait is to utilise a mirror, but not to modify myself in order that I might make some personal, general or artistic statement, but rather to place the emphasis on the mirror. Cumming draws attention to a perhaps extreme example of one such portrait where the artist paints himself with blanked out eyes, but framed in a mirror with a bamboo frame (Cumming, 2009: 140) (see fig. 3.):
It is as if the camera has panned back to show the film set in its true surroundings, a flimsy box in the real world of the studio. The physical characteristics of the mirror are beautifully described, its quicksilver surface alive with slippery motion, the light from the attic window reflected in blurry halation. The painter, you feel, has been right up close to examine the varnish sheen of its bamboo frame, bright against the matt wallpaper. In fact, the picture puts you closer to the mirror that Vuillard [the artist] himself, who stands further back, a more remote reflection. He can see, or know, more about the mirror than himself, the painting implies; for what can one discover about oneself from a mirror? (Cumming, 2009: 140).
The rhetorical question at the end of the quote above is an interesting one.
Cumming, Laura (2009) A Face to the World. On Self-Portraits. London: Harper Press
Sobieszek, Robert A. (1999) Ghost in the Shell. Photography and the Human Soul, 1850 – 2000. Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art
List of illustrations
Figure 1. Parmigianino (1524) Self-portrait in a Convex Mirror. [Oil on convex panel] At: http://images.bridgemanart.com/api/1.0/image/600.BAL.107460.7055475/61522.JPG (Accessed on: 12.02.15)
Figure 2. Morimura, Yasumasa (1996 – 1997) Self-portrait (Vivien holding camera) [gelatin silver print] At: http://www.artnet.com/artists/yasumasa-morimura/self-portrait-vivien-holding-camera-jhyk9vNQrYEzpCPKF33btw2 (Accessed on: 12.02.15)
Figure 3 Vuillard, Jean-Édouard (1890) Autoportrait au miroir de bamboo. [oil on canvas ] At: http://www.christies.com/lotfinderimages/d54936/edouard_vuillard_autoportrait_au_miroir_de_bambou_d5493603h.jpg (Accessed on: 12.02.15)