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Looking at self-portraits

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Today I attended the opening of a small gallery of self-portrait photos taken by women in a self-portraiture class at UC Santa Cruz. I attended last year's as well (Kam took me both times); really interesting pictures.

And I think there are all sorts of interesting things one could say about self-portraits, particularly photographic ones taken by women, particularly given some of the artists' statements (in text accompanying the photos) mentioning that they've always been uncomfortable with their bodies and pictures of same. Some of the portraits are nude; some are partly nude; some are revealing in other ways.

But I think what interests me most—and also discomfits me most—about these galleries is my own reactions to them. I want to stop and look at the portraits carefully, to talk about them with friends, to think about the choices the women made and what I think they were trying to do and how well they succeeded, or in what ways I feel they failed; to look and talk about them as both art and revelation of self. (And, yes, in some cases to admire the attractiveness of the woman as portrayed in the photo.) But I'm very aware of the fact that I'm a male observer, in a culture in which many portraits of women are made by and for male observers. And I'm particularly aware of the fact that the women who took these photos (and are the subjects of them) are there in person at the gallery, watching people (including me) react to their work. There's a fascinating double-layering of subject/object stuff going on (in my head if nowhere else)—it's not a reversal of traditional subject and object, but a doubling, where the artists can observe the audience observing the observations that the artists previously made of themselves. Cool, but at the same time scary. What if I react wrong? What if I react stereotypically? I wouldn't want one of these artists to see me looking at their nude self-portraits, 'cause they might assume that I'm engaging in the stereotypical male objectification thing. (And for that matter I may be doing exactly that.) And so on.

Like I said, mostly it's all in my head. If I were more adept at socializing, I could alleviate most of the above by simply finding the artist for a given portrait and introducing myself and talking with her, asking questions about why she made various choices, asking her how she felt (and feels) about exposing herself in this way, in a space that's sort of a safe space (the UCSC Women's Center) but is also a public space. It's kind of like posting to an online journal in some ways, I guess.

And that's quite enough revelatory self-exposure for one journal entry, Jed. Time to get a little reading (and maybe writing) done, then go to sleep.

2 Comments

What if I react wrong? What if I react stereotypically? I wouldn't want one of these artists to see me looking at their nude self-portraits, 'cause they might assume that I'm engaging in the stereotypical male objectification thing. (And for that matter I may be doing exactly that.) And so on.

What if you react honestly, in a way that is true to yourself and who you are and who you dream of becoming?


Given conversations I've had, I was expecting a lot of "me too" posts. Except, you know, eloquent ones befitting the readership here. Is everyone else nodding their heads silently, or am I alone in this?

metasilk: generally true and useful, but. :)


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