My self-portrait (see Gallery 1) seeks to make a general point about individual identity, not a specific one about my identity. The work of for example Cindy 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”’ (Sobieszek, 1999: 253). However, as the critic Stephen Shaviro and others have suggested (see Sobieszek above), there may be substance behind the idea of multiplicity of identities and in fact that ‘multiple-personality disorder may be the “best paradigm we have for postmodern consciousness”’.
Gallery 1 Self-portrait
The mirror is central to the seal-portrait shown in Gallery 1. Historically the mirror was something essential to an artist’s self-portrait, but it was ‘used and removed, returned to invisibility time after time, deleted from the final self-portrait ‘(Cumming, 2009: 143). An interesting exception is ‘Triple Self-Portrait’ by Norman Rockwell (see fig. 1.). In this self-portrait:
there are three Rockwells to choose from, and more if you count the pencil sketches. The man with his back to the viewer is entirely subsumed in his work; the face on the canvas is a self-deprecating joke; and the man the mirror purports to reveal is shyly concealed behind those blinkingly reflective specs. What Rockwell looked like in the mirror was not what he was (Cumming, 2009: 146).
What Rockwell makes of himself in this definitive self-portrait ‘an expert narrative, transparent, inclusive, gently humorous – was the essence of his art at its best’ (Cumming, 2009: 146) is not so easily open to the photographic self-portraitist who, because the camera captures the object before it, must use costume, and prosthetics in order to reflect or express their art, for example Cindy Sherman, Stelarc (b. 1946) and the French artist Orlan (b. 1947) (above).
My self-portrait does not ‘return the mirror to invisibility’ (above) but places it center stage, as something intrinsic to the composition. In this way it in some way echoes the 16th century Italian artist Parmigianino, ‘Self-portrait in a Convex Mirror’ (see above). Indeed it was when viewing this portrait reproduced in Cumming’s book (Cumming, 2009: 135) that the first ideas emerged about the form that my self-portrait might take.
My self-portrait perhaps invokes what Michael Frayn wrote near the conclusion of his book ‘The Human Touch’ (Frayn, 2006), whereby, considering his sense of self he says:
A sovereign of the old school I had always felt myself to be, benevolent but absolute, the source of all the edicts that constitute the fabric of the court and its business, the master of my own revels. … however, I discover that I am not an absolute ruler after all. I am a mere constitutional fiction, a face on the postage stamps, a signature at the bottom of decrees written by unidentified powers behind the throne over which I have no control. I am manipulated by competing factions about whose divisions and debates I am kept ignorant. … All I can ever know about this world behind my back is its product – the words I utter on its behalf, the mysterious masques I find myself watching (Fayne, 2006: 394).
A reviewer of Frayn’s book concluded:
The final chapter addresses the nature of the self, that perpetual pilot light we believe to be our individual soul but which, when we search for it, proves a will-o’-the-wisp. What Frayn seems to recognise, though he does not specifically say so – indeed, at one point he speaks of “the centrality of the self” – is that there is no essential self, … (Banville, 2006).
In my self-portrait both the viewer and the photographer seek in vain for the essential self: the multiplicity of selves on show, their random, distorted nature, their seeming endlessness, all are suggestive of a lack of centrality, of a single organising One, the absence of an essential Self.
The mirrors used were magnetised spheres manufactured as a ‘desk toy’. The largest sphere in the image has a diameter of 15 mm; the photograph was taken using a 100 mm f2.8 macro lens; no Photoshop techniques were applied to the image other than brightness/contrast adjustment; a vignette was added.
Cumming, Laura (2009) A Face to the World. On Self-Portraits. London: Harper Press
Banville, John (2006) Making ourselves up At: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2006/sep/30/highereducation.news (Accessed on: 23.02.15)
Frayn, Michael (2006) The Human Touch: Our Part in the Creation of a Universe. London: Faber
List of Illustrations
Figure 1. Rockwell, Norman (1960) Triple Self-Portrait At: http://www.nrm.org/MT/graphics/TripleSelf.jpg (Accessed 23.02.15)