"The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera." - Dorothea Lange

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

we love our selfies

"There’s been a lot of talk about selfies recently. The Oxford Dictionaries named 'selfie' the word of the year for 2013, and 'Museum Selfie Day,' last month, encouraged museumgoers to take creative selfies in front of art. But what distinguishes a selfie from an artist’s self-portrait? A smartphone and a Tinder account is the easy answer, but, in general, we ask more from a self-portrait than we do from a selfie: more consideration, more composition, more psychological insight and aesthetic care. From family photographs to annual staged series and quirky snaps captured in a street windows, here is a selection of my favorite self-portraits."

- Jessie Wender, The New Yorker

Deana Lawson, “Self-Portrait” (2012)

LAWSON: At least once a year, I make a self-portrait. It’s an occasion for the artist to construct her representation through her own medium, be it a camera or a paintbrush or what have you. It’s an opportunity to declare who you are visually and who you aspire to be. A selfie is a smaller branch of self-portraiture—quick and less considered. A self-portrait considers the interiority of the artist; it’s a moment for self-reflection, to pause and to look at yourself.

Vivian Maier, “Self-Portrait (1956), Courtesy Maloof Collection and Howard Greenberg Gallery

FRANCES VIGNOLA (of the Howard Greenberg Gallery): Vivian Maier made more than a hundred and fifty thousand exposures in her lifetime, yet her photographs remained unseen until John Maloof, a Chicago historian, discovered her work, in 2007. She was intensely private—very few people even knew that she was a photographer, including some of the families she worked for as a nanny. Self-portraits, made primarily between the nineteen-fifties and seventies, are a continuous thread throughout Maier’s work. They form a visual diary, recording her presence in time and place, as well as illustrating her progression as an artist. In Maier’s practice, there was no concern for audience—rather, only an extraordinary drive to be lost in the act of photographing and the personal compulsion for the images to be made.

Sally Mann, “Self-Portrait” (1973), courtesy of Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York and Zürich

MANN: I took this in 1973 or so, when Larry and I were house-sitting for someone rich enough to have a J. C. Penney catalogue and a big mirror. They also had insulation and central heat in their house, which encouraged me to drop my sweater to reveal my long johns. I look a bit fraught, but that’s because I hadn’t been out of that sweater—which was wool; fleece hadn’t been invented—in weeks.

Lee Friedlander, “Haverstraw, New York” (1966), courtesy of Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

RICHARD BENSON (from the afterword to “Lee Friedlander: In the Picture: Self-Portraits 1958-2011”: I believe this string of self-portraits turned into a lifelong exploration because Lee saw very soon that his pictures were records of change—in himself, in the landscapes he was photographing, and in the friends and family he pulled into the frame.

Erwin Blumenfeld, “Self-Portrait” (circa 1932), © estate of Erwin Blumenfeld, courtesy of Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York and Zürich

NADIA BLUMENFLED (Erwin’s granddaughter): Blumenfeld was an avid experimenter in photography, and one of his areas of experimentation was self-portraits. In mirrors, in reflections, even, once, as giving birth to a woman. This is a rare instance of a self-portrait with his family. There is his wife, Lena, his daughter Lisette, and in the foreground, his son Heinz, my father. It was taken at their home, in Holland, at a time when he still had a leather-goods shop in Amsterdam but was starting to do photography professionally.

Ilse Bing, “Self-Portrait with Leica” (1931), © estate of Ilse Bing, courtesy ofEdwynn Houk Gallery, New York and Zürich

MICHAEL MATTIS, (a collector and copyright holder for Ilse Bing, text adapted from wall text for “Paris Night & Day: Photography between the Wars,” at Boston College’s McMullen Museum, on view through June 8th): Born into a prosperous Jewish family in Frankfurt, Ilse Bing studied mathematics and art history before picking up a camera and launching a photographic career that would last for three decades. “Self-Portrait with Leica” is Bing’s best-known photograph. With its perfectly positioned mirror capturing a photographer at the moment of artistic conception, it is both a personal manifesto and a touchstone of this artistically fertile era—an icon of modernist French photography.

Danny Lyon, “Self-Portrait, New York City” (1969), © Magnum Photos, courtesy of the Whitney Museum, New York and Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York and Zürich

LYON: It is not actually possible for me to photograph myself, as empathy, the quality that drives my work, can only be felt with another human, not with myself. This is a true document and an accident, to boot, as no one is looking through the viewfinder. The only real thing in it is my shoulder and the back of my face, which, again, is by accident, caught directly in front of the lens, creating a foreground, and the strange bathroom, decorated with children’s decals. A work of narcissism, a record of the person I was pretending to be forty-three years ago, and here taken out of context, as it was originally published, against a portrait of someone making love in a mirror.

Jun Ahn, “Self-Portrait” (2008)/Courtesy Christophe Guye Galerie, Zürich

AUN: This image was taken at the apartment where I lived for about six years, while I was in graduate school for photography, in New York. I consider the elimination of context the most fascinating aspect of a photographic image. For me, photography is the reality and the fantasy, the truth and the fiction, all at the same time. What I wish to discover through photography is the invisible moment, the invisible structure, and hidden beauty of a world that only can be seen with the camera.

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