06 February 2012

frankly: on self portraits and narcissism

I've recently read quite a few articles on the merits of self portraits, all written by photographers. It got me thinking about how self-portraits are generally perceived and peoples attitudes towards them. Through high school, I found that there was a pretty much a 'type' of person that took pictures of themselves, or to clarify, there was a 'type' that took multitudes of pictures of themselves and posted them up on whatever social network happened to be cool at the time. Unfailingly these pictures were accompanied by complimentary remarks. I could never quite work out the dynamics, was the original poster looking for a confidence boost? Or were the people commenting looking to win favour? Who knows!

It's never really appealed to me, for a variety of reasons I suppose. Mainly, I don't really like to be the centre of attention. Uploading a ton of picture of myself in various poses? Definitely draws attention, positive or negative. With the exception of this blog, I've never used a profile picture that was taken by myself.  The blogs picture, is old. Like, 4 years old. My photography teacher encouraged us to experiment with self portraits but I always felt, awkward and self conscious. Not whilst taking the pictures, but if anybody else saw them. In my brain was this little voice saying "What must they think? What kind of self obsessed person spends ages taking pictures of themselves." And that was pretty much how I thought of it. Odd really, as there were a few people in my photography class that took stunning self portraits, and I never once thought that of them. Funny how the human mind works.

When I think about it now, I realise that I was actually appreciating the difference between an expressive self-portrait and a picture taken in the bathroom mirror. Another fine line drawn between images that are photographs and images that are snaps. Amongst the photography community, it seems to be a perfectly acceptable way of practising portrait techniques when you don't have a willing victim friend to practise on. When I think about my photography skills objectively, I know that portraits are one of my weaker areas. Yes, I can blame the fact that I don't have the professional equipment, but this is really just an excuse. The blame lies entirely with the fact that I very rarely take pictures of people.

Part of this is due to the fact that a lot of the people I know are camera shy, which admittedly doesn't make practising easier. The rest is due to the fact that I'm unwilling to practice on people if they're going to be disappointed with the results. I guess partially, its also because I prefer shooting other things. So I wonder, would practising on myself help me to hone these skills, make me a better portrait photographer? The answer is probably yes, although I think it'll take a while before I begin to see it as an exercise rather than self indulgence. The fact that I hate being in front of a camera is also of importance, but at least if I put myself through it then I'll be able to sympathise with other camera shy people.


The next problem, is what to do with the images. Is it vain to post pictures of yourself? Does that not come across as being somewhat narcissistic? I suspect it lies entirely on the nature of the image, and the context in which it in being used. Some people accuse fashion bloggers of being narcisstic, from my experience however this doesn't appear to be true. I personally appreciate the inspiration these bloggers provide me with and view it as a form of self-expression. The images I've used in this post are all self portraits, but none of them feel self-centred to me, or artificial.

I also believe that many people who use the word narcissist have a very poor understanding of what it means. Loving yourself, having confidence in yourself and believing in yourself are not traits of narcissism (in my opinion), they are traits of a healthy person with a positive attitude and self image.

This is quite a delicate subject and I'm sure there are people out there that think very differently to how I do. I'm really interested in what you guys think about this, what is your stance on self-portraits?

This is part of Frankly: a new series I'm bringing to the blog where I'll be writing longer articles to explore the way I think about things. If you have any suggestions, or there's anything you'd like to see my thoughts on then please let me know!


  1. I really love this post!! It's definitely something I've pondered and stressed over myself - where is that line?! I would love to have more self-portraits (simply because there are very few photos featuring me ANYWHERE) but I feel uncomfortable taking them of myself. Artistic creative self-portraits rarely do generate that 'self-obsessed thought' that you spoke about - I also just appreciate what great photos they are and how wonderful the person looks. It's a pretty conflicting mental battle - especially for photographers! I think, unlike you, my fear of it also stems from actually feeling uncomfortable being photographed and feeling insecure. I think you should definitely be bold and brave, embrace the self-portrait motion, take some winners and POST THEM for the world to appreciate your art - both the technical elements and the subject!


    1. I'm the same, I'm very much the 'photographer' of my family and I'm really conscious that there are often very few/no pictures of me at all from when we've done stuff together.

      I'm definitely uncomfortable being photographed, I always feel really silly and I'm very rarely happy with a picture of me! I think its definitely something I'll tackle this year - you should too!

  2. Vere insightful these words of yours. I really have troubles with taking photos of myself and people for the same reasons as you do. So as you can see, my blog photos are mostly of other "things". I want, however, to take photos of people including myself. Just for the sake of having nice photos of yourself and the people you care about. One day we all grow old and I want something that can remind me of how it all was and to look back on. That is definitely my New Years resolution.

    1. Love this, exactly how I feel - especially when I look back through pictures and realise that there are very few of me with the people that I love. I think I need to just worry less about being in front of the camera!

      Maybe we should set up a group for people who hate taking pictures of themselves - we can all offer some encouragement!

  3. I meant to comment on this last week but had to run off to class mid-comment. Brilliantly worded and I couldn't agree more, I feel like there's always going to be someone looking at my self portraits going 'CRINGE, what the hell is she doing?!' Which of course is completely ridiculous and really, why should I care what other people think?

    Loving your 'frankly' series so far, it's as if you can read my mind :P


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