The Self: The Power of Self-Portrait Photography

It isn’t often that we discuss self-portrait photography as a form. In the age of phone cameras, we see so many “selfies” that it almost feels as if the self-portrait has nothing left to say.

That couldn’t be less true, and today we’re going to look at some of the self-portrait photographers that we find interesting to inspire you to put yourself in front of the lens.

1) The first ever self-portrait

The first known self-portrait was taken by amateur chemist and photography enthusiast, Robert Cornelius in his family store in Philadelphia in 1839. He took the image by removing the lens cap and then running into the frame where he sat for a minute before covering up the lens again.

On the back, he wrote “The first light Picture ever taken. 1839.”

First Self-Portrait ever by Robert Cornelius

2) Robert Mapplethorpe

Robert Mapplethorpe is best known for his provocative black and white images in which he styles himself as everything from the devil, a woman, a terrorist, and much more.

Self-Portrait photography by Robert Mapplethorpe

Mapplethorpe experimented with the concept of gender in his self-portraits, as well as with complex issues such as sexuality and desire, hedonism, and excess.
Self-Portrait by Robert Mapplethorpe

Self-Portrait by Robert Mapplethorpe

 3) Cindy Sherman

Cindy Sherman was well known for using herself as a subject in every one of her photos. Because of this, Sherman changed the way most people interpreted self-portrait photography. Self-portraiture is usually an introspective and reflective process, where the artist is questioning something about themselves. With Sherman’s work, she used herself as a canvas to paint other characters onto.
In one image she may be portraying a movie star, in another a centrefold model, or even a corpse.

 Untitled Film Still #21, 1977 by Cindy Sherman

(c) Cindy Sherman

(c) Cindy Sherman

4) Edward Honaker

In stark contrast to Cindy Sherman’s impersonal approach, Edward Honaker’s self-portraiture is about as personal and reflective as it is possible to get. 

Honaker’s photography mainly deals with his depression and his ways of living with mental illness.

As such, much of his photography deals with the themes of identity through obscuring the face of the subject – Honaker himself.

Self-portrait by Edward Honaker

(c) Edward Honaker

Many of Honaker’s images are deeply impactful and speak powerfully about what it is like to live with a mental illness and lose the sense of the person you were before. 

5) Alex DeForest

Where Honaker’s work is deeply personal, DeForest’s work is wonderfully technical. Deforest’s self-portraits use experimental lighting techniques to create interesting effects where the light plays off his face and gives a wonderful sense of movement to what is otherwise a very still image.

(c) Alex DeForest

(c) Alex DeForest

6) Jen Davis 

Jen Davis began taking images of herself as a way to grow to accept her body. Over the course of 11 years, Davis took deeply intimate images of herself performing all manner of tasks as a way to change her relationship with her body.

Self-portrait photography by Jen Davis

Self-portrait photography by Jen Davis
After more than a decade, Davis was able to use her body of work to come to the realization that her body hadn’t changed, and more importantly neither had she.

This spurred her to undergo surgery and lose more than 100lbs in a short span of time. This rapid change allowed her to view herself in a new light and as a brand new subject for her photography.

By | 2017-11-08T12:19:44+00:00 September 28th, 2017|blog, Masters of Photography, News, Portrait|0 Comments

About the Author:

We are the Photoion Photography School, and we love everything to do with Photography. We are always reading about the latest techniques, equipment, and accessories. We endeavour to share what we are passionate about with you. Enthusiasm is contagious; and we would love for our readers to be as enthusiastic about Photography as we are. We are constantly teaching, shooting, and posting great images and stories so stay tuned!

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