Following on from Armstrong’s discussion (Armstrong, 1988) of a photographic self-portrait by Edward Degas with its insistence on “the divided and duplicated self as the function of the photograph by taking up the process of internal division and multiplication”, it is interesting to note that Robert Sobieszek (Sobieszek , 1999) in his survey of portrait photography between the years 1850 to 2000 also considers ‘internal division and multiplication’. He writes:
… sociologist Sherry Turkle and critic Steven Shaviro have both claimed that, a century or so after Freud, multiple-personality disorder has replaced hysteria as a fashionable disease and may just be, as Shaviro puts it, the “best paradigm we have for postmodern consciousness”. And according to philosopher Ian Hacking, “There is one thing, dissociation, and everyone is slightly dissociative, some are more so, and multiples are the most dissociative of all” (Sobieszek, 1999: 184).
Among the photographs reproduced in this section of the book is ‘Triplets’ (see fig. 1.) by Keith Cottingham.
Robert Louis Stevenson’s story ‘Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’ (1886) is famous for its dramatisation of the theme of a split in human consciousness. The story has been invoked in discussions of the work of Cindy Sherman:
In her [Cindy Sherman] Fashion series, including her ‘Untitled (Cosmo Cover Girl)’ of 1990, Sherman reminds us that fashion itself allows us all to create and display a wide range of appearances as if “we each possessed a multiplicity of identities”. In the Fairy Tales and Monster series, in which ghouls and childhood memories seem to return with macabre horror likely to shock adults, she may be suggesting that we all harbour secrets, repressed self that can shift form and shape at will, not unlike Jekyll and Hyde. … the various genderless guises and masks Sherman uses throughout much of her later work address a multiplicity that may be inherent to us all (Sobieszek, 1999: 253).
Cindy Sherman and for example Stelarc (b. 1946) and the French artist Orlan (b. 1947) use ‘prosthetics, robotics and surgery to attempt to transcend the human body’ (Bright, 2010:63). These artists:
Through the use of their bodies … constantly question what it means to be human. Interestingly (and perhaps ironically) as they pursue their explorations into the malleability of the body their selves become all the more apparent (Bright, 2010:63).
In capturing my self-portrait I will not attempt any such body alterations (above), yet hope that the photograph might reflect the view that:
In our culture of discontinuous spectacles and imploded simulations, where coherent narrative successions are replaced by destabilised electronic switching, where schizophrenic scrambling alters all the codes and coordinates that once seemed to work, where fluid multiplicities of selves displace an essential, existential self, and where the possibility of cloning adult humans is far more that a matter of science fiction – … And, if everyone is dissociative, precisely how many selves are there displaying the gymnastics of whose soul? (Sobieszek, 1999: 184).
Armstrong, Carol (1988) ‘Reflections on the Mirror: Painting, Photography, and the Self-Portraits of Edgar Degas’ In: Representations 22, pp. 108-141
Bright, Susan (2010) Autofocus. The self-portrait in contemporary photography. London: Thames & Hudson.
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. Cottingham, Keith (1993) Triplets At: https://cormac513273.files.wordpress.com/2015/02/2508d-triplets1400.jpg (Accessed on: 18.02.15)