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Self image: basic materials and techniques (4)

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see also: Transitions / Connections

Photographic self-portraits

life through a lens

Madame Yevonde
by Madame Yevonde
NPG x17998

Since photography became available to artists in the mid 19th century it has played a large part underpinning the development of work created in other media as well as establishing itself as an art form in its own right. Painters and sculptors can work from photographs instead of from life. Photographs can be copied, projected or traced.

The invention of the photographic portrait meant that a painted or sculpted portrait no longer needed to confirm a definitive likeness and as a result artists were more able to use these media to explore other ways of making portraits.

Self-portraits can be made with a camera using a shutter release on a cable, allowing the artist to set up the camera, pose and take the photograph from some distance away. Some artists like to disguise the shutter release button by concealing it behind folded arms or behind their back to confuse the viewer into wondering how they managed to take the photograph. Others have it blatantly in full view leaving no doubt that they are the creator of the work.

Lewis Morley
by Lewis Morley
NPG x38902

Cameras often have a timer switch setting, allowing the artist to set it, move into position and pose before it clicks. This method can sometimes be difficult to control and the element of spontaneity can add something unexpected.

It is also possible to photograph yourself by holding the camera at arms length. By relying on guesswork there is uncertainty about what is in focus and the type of composition that will result.

These artists are holding negatives:

Yousuf Karsh
by Yousuf Karsh
NPG P247

Some artists ask someone else to take the photograph to their instructions and still consider this to be a self-portrait. This borders on a more 'conceptual' approach to what a self-portrait actually is and follows the theory that even though the artist may not have created the work with their own hand this is not as important as the ideas contained within the work.

David Octavius Hill
by David Octavius Hill, and Robert Adamson
circa 1843
NPG P6(1)

Robert Adamson
by David Octavius Hill, and Robert Adamson
NPG P6(181)

Early nineteenth century photography embraced many new forms of printing in sepia tone, black and white and colour.

Olive Edis
by Olive Edis, or Katharine Legat (née Edis)
mid 1910s
NPG x45535

Lewis Carroll
by Lewis Carroll
2 June 1857
NPG P7(26)

David Wilkie Wynfield
by David Wilkie Wynfield

Oliver François Xavier Sarony
by Oliver François Xavier Sarony
late 1850s
NPG P613

In 1960, the Whitechapel Art Gallery was the first major art gallery in London to host a photographic exhibition. This solo show was by Ida Kar.

Ida Kar
by Ida Kar
early 1950s
NPG x88604

Ida Kar
by Brian Robins
NPG x88606

Ida Kar
by Brian Robins
NPG x88607

Self-portraits by Bob Collins, show us his camera, a Rolleiflex. Interestingly we can also view the whole of the contact sheet and study which view that he has taken of himself that we consider tells us most about him.

If you look closely, you'll see him smile, indoors, with and without props.

Bob Collins
by Bob Collins
NPG x126183

Bob Collins
by Bob Collins
NPG x126181

Bob Collins
by Bob Collins
NPG x126182


Other artists had fun manipulating the printing of their photographs in the darkroom

Cecil Beaton
by Cecil Beaton
NPG P219

Chris Garnham
by Chris Garnham
NPG x38123

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