Approaching self-portraiture

A lot of us cringe when we see photographs of ourselves because we don’t like how they depict us. Our image in a photograph is not what we’re used to seeing in a mirror because, the fact is, we’re not built entirely symmetrically. Any aspect that is asymmetrical appears to be exaggerated—doubly so—whenever we see it photographed.

Historically, when artists have drawn or painted portraits, they usually referred to a mirror image. Since photography has come onto the scene, we have had the choice of which to derive our self-portraits from.

150309p Self Portrait

I have chosen to use photographs for my own self-portraiture (including #150409p, above) for two reasons. First, a photograph records my features as most people are used to seeing me, so a mirror image would appear to them to be as “wrong” and distorted as a photographic image appears to me.

The irony is that when preparing for the self-portrait above, I shot the reference photograph in a mirror but forgot to reverse the image before drawing from it. So what you see here is actually the mirror image that I am more familiar with. It does help to be able to chuckle at our own mistakes!

The second reason I like to work from a photograph is that, working from a less familiar image, I am less inclined to succumb to vanity and either consciously or unconsciously “improve” certain features to make them appear more attractive to my own eye. This is because I am forced to accept the reality of the less familiar image as though it were an entirely separate person. If I should try to “correct” my appearance from a photographic image, I would almost certainly be distorting it away from the perception others have of my actual appearance.

I do hope I managed to refrain from succumbing to that temptation in the self-portrait shown here.

Of course, this raises the question of why I should go to the trouble of drawing or painting a self-portrait if I’m taking a photograph anyway. I’ll address that question next time.

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