A Photo Teacher |

The Camera I

Posted in PHOT 167 by Paul Turounet on August 22, 2007

From the medium’s early inception, photographers were immediately interested in capturing the likeness of people on film, the photographic portrait. Unlike the portrait paintings, the photographic portrait provided a seemingly exact likeness and description of a person. However, the portrait photograph presented far more than a descriptive reality of people. A common existential condition was revealed – an individual psychology and collective sociology as well as the tension between the private and public self. The portrait photograph questioned and provided clues to reflect on our sense of identity and our roles within a complex social fabric. As a photographer working intimately with people, it becomes important to ask how true the photographic portrait appears to be in depicting a pertinent aspect of the person photographed and the level of accuracy the portrait has in describing the supposed true character of the subject.



© Lee Friedlander, New York City, New York, 1966 and Paul Turounet, First Self-Portrait (date and location unknown)


The obvious advantage of the “self” as subject matter for an artist’s work is its easy accessibility. It is always at hand and spares the artist the trouble and expense of extra tickets, overweight fee, model releases and double rooms. The self – and that part of the world that is at any moment the self’s envelope, its rolling scroll of changing backdrops – is omnipresent and free.

The obvious “disadvantage” of the self as subject is the fact that it inevitably raises the issue of conflict of interest. When the artist is also the subject, wearing two hats at once, is he (she) first of all the servant of historic and artistic justice, or the agent of self-advancement?

from The Friedlander Self by John Szarkowski, Afterword in Lee Friedlander – Self Portrait


For many, the initial exploration of the self came from a strip of photos out of a machine – the photo booth – a vending machine that contained an automated, usually coin-operated, camera and film processor. As seen in the photo booth pictures of Andy Warhol, these little curtained theaters provided for moments of seemingly private self-contemplation and allowed the sitter to adopt a succession of different roles. Photo booths, both analog and digital can still be found – Photobooth.net – and digital versions can be created utilizing Apple Computers built-in iSight lens in the computer and Photo Booth software.



© Giles Revell, from the series Photofit (self-portraits using a 1970’s police Photofit kit for producing suspect identification composites)


© Noah Kalina, from on-going series, Noah K Everyday



© Nikki Lee, from The Hip-Hop Project, 2001


One of those steadfast rules in photography, probably suggested in some photography textbook or popular photo magazine, is not to include yourself, your shadow or a reflection of yourself in the photograph. Yet, some of the most interesting photographs do include the photographer, their shadow or reflection as an identifying mark, similar to that of a signature or fingerprint, including the work of Lee Friedlander. For other photographers, including Cindy Sherman and Nikki Lee, the self-portrait becomes a fictionalized character in an exploration of roles one would find in a movie or advertisement. In the case of Nan Goldin, self-portraiture functions within a personal narrative context as if they were entries in a visual diary.



Visually investigate the conceptual idea of personal identity as revealed through various forms of the self-portrait.  Utilizing one or a combination of the visual strategies discussed, including the analog photo booth, the Apple iPhoto photo booth as well as with the camera, visually investigate the conceptual idea of personal identity as revealed through various forms of the self-portrait.

Shoot photographic images (RAW and/or on the highest quality resolution setting) and focus your energies on creating visually engaging compositions as suggested by your use of the photographic frame, point of view, details, moments of exposure, light as well as use/handling of photographic materials (grayscale and color) and various presentation strategies (multiple – image, multiple – panel, and/or the use of video).



For the critique (see Calendar for Due Date) and evaluation, please complete the following:

Minimum of 1 – digital contact sheet (10 images on each contact) made in the Grossmont College Analog | Digital Photography Labs.

Minimum of 1 – finished photographic prints made in the Grossmont College Analog | Digital Photography Labs.

Turn-in all critique materials in a manila envelope for evaluation and feedback.

If you’re interested in exploring and pursuing an alternative visual strategy, don’t hesitate to discuss with the instructor for advice on how to approach and execute for completion of the assignment.



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