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April 4, 2007
Ahree Lee's "me."
Attempts at realistic self-portraits have always been a vehicle for inward-looking romanticism, melancholy, and trying to stop time for a moment to preserve a fleeting physical and emotional presence. Think of Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Picasso, Henri Cartier-Bresson, and Chuck Close, to name a few.
Andy Warhol took it further, made it a business of masks, but also introduced the idea of the moving self-portrait. He loaded a movie camera with a minute's worth of film, and invited people to make their own movie portraits, alone in the room with the camera turned on. The range of emotions that flickered in the eyes and nervous facial twitches and grimaces revealed a tremendous amount about the underlying person behind the mask, and infused these portraits with waves of feelings that could rarely be communicated with a still image. Even though no one else is present in the room, the subject does not really have control. Something vulnerable is revealed. Waves of feelings and emotions and insecurities pass before our eyes. Here's one by an obviously uncomfortable Bob Dylan:
A couple weeks ago, "The New York Times" had an article about a new trend of extended series of self-portraits that are then patched together in a digital sequence, sometimes put to music, and broadcast via sites like YouTube. This kind of thing became feasible for the everyman only when digital cameras hit the scene, along with software programs like photoshop and quicktime, and photo/video sharing internet sites.
These are much more controlled, self-absorbed, and a bit like preening in front of a mirror, even under the guise of objectivity and strict discipline (one rule: every day, at the same time, sit in front of the camera at exactly the same distance, and shoot...).
But what is amazing in these years of lives compressed into minutes, is how little some people change (the mask is always up), while other people just let it go, and we can witness with amazement the visual and emotional shifts one person displays over the course of 8 years, for instance:
So, prophetic Andy Warhol was right, everybody gets a chance to be famous for fifteen minutes (or maybe a bit less in our high-speed digital age).
There is a nice philosophical tie-in with the fictitious self-portraits created by Serbian photographer Katarina Radovic in her series called "Personals", shown here in Lens Culture. The text she wrote to accompany the series poses some interesting questions about self-portraiture.