Exercise 3.1 – Autobiographical self-portraiture (P.78)

Reflect on the pieces of work discussed in this project in your learning log and do some further research of your own. Here are a few questions you might ask yourself:

How do these images make you feel?

The works presented in this project are self-portraits by three female photographers; Francesca Woodman, Elina Brotherus and Gillian Wearing. I found myself reacting to them in different ways. I was aware of Frencesca Woodman’s work and her suicide at the age of 22. My reaction to her work was to question what she was trying to communicate? Were her self-portraits trying to show the mental health issues she experienced which ultimately lead to her death or is it more straight-forward, a young female artist challenging convention and developing her own voice? My conclusion is that her work is about self-expression and challenging convention and not about her mental health. Elina Brotherus work Annonciation is both personal and poignant; based on her unsuccessful attempt to become pregnant via IVF, the pain and despair are evident in the images and the series as a whole. Whilst I found both Francesca Woodman and Elina Brotherus work interesting and engaging, in contrast, I found the Wearing’s work to be unengaging. In the series Wearing takes photographs of herself as other members of her family using life-like prosthetics. The course notes state ‘Wearing is questioning her role in her family history and also questioning the role her family has played in who she has become.’ Her photographs did not lead me to think about her role in her family and how it shaped who she has become or my role in my family and the impact it has had on me. Overall I the work did not resonate with me and I thought is was somewhat contrived.

Do you think there’s an element of narcissism or self-indulgence in focusing on your own identity in this way?

Narsissism is defined as ‘ inordinate fascination with oneself; excessive self-love; vanity.’ and I do not think that any of the work could be described in these terms. I also think that the works could not be described as self-indulgent. Although they are all based on elements of the photographers’ lives, I do not think the elements they are portraying could be thought of as indulgent. Thinking particularly about Brotherus’s work and friends that have undergone IVF I would describe the process as being overwhelming and emotionally exhausting, so in no way could it be thought of as indulgent. Woodman and Wearing’s work I think is an exploration of themselves and whilst this could be thought of as being self-absorbed I think it is in order to make sense of their place in the world rather than them being self-obsessed.

What’s the significance of Brotherus’s nakedness?

I think the significant of Brotherus’s nakedness is two-fold. First to present as true as image as possible without the meaning being altered or hidden by assumptions made by the viewer about the significance of particular clothing. Second I think it signifies her vulnerability, how the cycles of hope and despair have emotionally drained and physically marked her.

• Can such images ‘work’ for an outsider without accompanying text?

Of the three bodies of work I think that Brotherus’s is the most easiest to understand as the accompanying text puts the images into context by explaining that the work is about involuntary childlessness. Francesca Woodman’s work on the other hand is often untitled and therefore the meaning of the images is entirely dependent on the interpretation of the images by the viewer. The images in Wearing’s work Album provide the viewer with some information e.g ‘ Self Portrait as My Mother Jean Gregory, 2003’ but I do not feel this gives the viewer sufficient information to understand fully that the work is about questioning her role in her family and its impact on who she has become.

• Do you think any of these artists are also addressing wider issues beyond the purely personal?

Of the three artist I think that only Brotherus’s work addresses wider issues beyond the purely personal. Woodman’s work appears to me to be very personal and is not trying to address any wider issues. I think Gillian Wearing’s work sits somewhere between the two other artists. The course notes tell us that Wearing’s work is about her role in her family and the impact her this has had on her and that it invites the viewer to consider this dynamic for themselves, however, I think that it is primarily a work about her family relationships and dynamics and their impact on her. The wider question about how this affects all of us is somewhat oblique.


Another. 2015. AnOther. [Online]. [30 March 2019]. Available from: https://www.anothermag.com/art-photography/7906/the-many-selves-of-gillian-wearing

Artnetcom. 2019. Artnetcom. [Online]. [30 March 2019]. Available from: http://www.artnet.com/artists/francesca-woodman/3

Tate. 2019. Tate. [Online]. [30 March 2019]. Available from: https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/woodman-space-providence-rhode-island-1975-1978-ar00350

Elinabrotheruscom. 2019. Elinabrotheruscom. [Online]. [30 March 2019]. Available from: http://www.elinabrotherus.com/photograph

Theguardiancom. 2012. The Guardian. [Online]. [30 March 2019]. Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/gallery/2012/mar/27/gillian-wearing-takeover-mask

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