What makes an interesting self portrait?

As I was browsing my friend network via my space… yes, I may yet breathe some life back into it… but I digress… I came across this self portrait in Tim’s space:


The picture itself wasn’t that striking to me until I read “self-portrait” in the post title.  This got me thinking… what makes an interesting self portrait?

True to my inner geek… admittedly I don’t keep it that deeply hidden, get within 3 feet of me and you’re likely collide, rather suddenly and sharply, with my “inner” geek carelessly strewn about… but once again I digress… true to geeky form I went to the web for answers.  I didn’t go looking for a treatise on the self-portrait, I wasn’t wanting for someone to spell it out for me,  I wanted to look at self portraits to try and understand what grabbed me.

Any image search will return thousands of self portraits… lots of paintings & drawings… fewer photographs.  The photos are, however, what I was looking for and find interesting.  Sure, there are a ton of pictures people took of themselves by holding the camera at arm’s length (and I love ’em, lord knows Paula and I have taken enough of those) but there are occasionally the pictures where you feel the picture contains a bit of “self”.  Self portraits which demonstrate the unique style of the artist (such as paintings by Van Gogh or photos by Warhol) are wonderful  but not quite what I was trying to find.  I was trying to find photos where it looked like the photographer was trying to tell the audience something more than “this is what I look like”.  Paintings, drawings and other “hand-made” likenesses allow the artist to dispense with some real world constraints and give a little glimpse into their inner-self, I want to do something like that with a camera.

I’m always telling myself I’ll start taking more pictures. I’ve been carrying my camera around on a daily basis, trying to keep an eye out for something interesting.  To and from work every day with my camera by my side… and yet… I have taken almost no pictures.  Tim’s picture got me thinking… I’m looking for subject matter… here’s some subject matter I’m carrying with me every day.

A picture taken of me, by me, will, by the very fact I took it, have some of my “self” imbued – it’s unavoidable.  Ask ten people to each take a picture of the same thing and you’ll get ten pictures.  Each picture will be affected by anything from the artist’s personality, sense of composition to things as simple as the height of the photographer (granted only five photos may be truly unique in an artistic sense, but you get my point).  I am going to try to unchain the creativity even more by allowing myself the unfettered use of Photoshop for this project as well.  It will still be a picture… and it will still be of me… but I’m hoping by adding a little “hand-made” to the photography I’ll be able to get closer to the “self” of self portrait than simply snapping a candid of Reeves.

I encourage the viewers at home to play along, I know Tami will be up for it.  I’m sure after I get through the first 4 ideas I have I’ll hit a wall and will need inspiration so I definitely encourage you to send me links to your work… oh, wait,  one exception: Steve, please refrain, I’m still going to therapy to recover from the last self portrait I received from you [shudder]… I’m going to try for a weekly (weakly?) self-portrait and hope my reliability for this project is better than it was for my picture a day for a year attempt which lasted all of 2 months. 

So…  Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more…

4 replies on “What makes an interesting self portrait?”

Hey Reeves,
I was looking at you and Paula self portraits and I just adore her eye glasses! If you don’t mind, will you ask her what kind they are?
Thanks much 🙂


ok so I realize this was posted way back in 2006 but i came across it in a google search for what makes an interesting self portrait and so far this is the most interesting bit of perspective I’ve come across so far. I like that you look for what the photographer may be trying to tell you. i think thats true whether the photographer does it intentionally or not but something else to consider as well… maybe the photographer wants to see what they look like photographed. I’ve been experimenting with self portraits (which is a highly awkward experience) after i finally decided what to wear i stood in front of the mirror with the camera in front of me and i suddenly wondered if what i see in the mirror when i stand sideways will look the same in a photograph as it does in the mirror, funny thing when you stand sideways you have to turn your head to see in the mirror and when you look forward you realize you cant see what that looks like. but the camera can and if I’m brave enough to click the shutter I will get the opportunity to see what that looks like photographed. interesting thing self portraits are. nice post even if i was forever ago 🙂

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