Kelly, Angela · Self Image: Personal is Political

With self-portraiture comes a certain self-awareness. Self expression is an illusion because the ideas we have are part of a larger collective experience. What we experience at a micro level is experienced by many at a macro level and when that is realized, then there is a possibility of solidarity and change. The personal is political.

Kelly argues that in regard to photography, because it is used so often as a vehicle to exploit women, it is difficult to use it as medium in which to express oppression. She believes that how a woman sees herself in part defines the role she plays. There is possibility of radicalism, though, in the context of how photographs are viewed. Women can’t just make photographs redefining our roles, they must actively challenge the stereotypes that pervade the media.

Kelly’s essay seems a little dated and second wave feminist, but her ideas around self-portraiture still hold true. It is not enough just to photograph a nude woman, but that it must be subverted in some way for it to be interesting and to challenge the stereotypes out there surrounding female sexuality. Kelly also mentions that when one takes self-portraits the moment is ‘felt’ rather than seen, and that leads to surprises as an artist. Filming myself and taking self-portraits is a way to document myself and I’m always surprised at the results. Like the author says, we usually see ourselves as static so when we turn the camera on ourselves the results can be surprising.

Seeing Nan Goldin’s photograph of herself Nan one month after being battered (1984) radicalized me when I was younger. A woman photographing herself wearing lipstick with her hair done in such a normal, everyday way while her eye is bloodshot and face disfigured brings attention to the normalization of domestic violence and violence against women and girls. If this was one month after the event, how did she look right after? The photo is raw and stomach-churning.

Petra Collin’s portraits are fascinating to look at visually because they represent they are a collision of social media, ~aesthetics~, and youth culture. Coming from a relaxed household, nudity, hair, and the female body was not a big deal but I can understand why it might be for this generation raised around celebrity worship, pornography, and increasing unattainable standards for women. The photographs of herself and of her friends capture this unique time that we are in and adds to the history of how women photographers represent themselves in their work.

Although not necessarily self-portraits, Maria Qamar, or Hatecopy as she is known, shows how she wants her culture represented through pop art, appropriation, and humor. She is turning art history on its head by subverting it and challenging stereotypes of Desi women.

Chantal Akerman’s Saute ma Ville (1968) follows the artist performing mundane daily tasks around her apartment escalating to a point where she’s just throwing things around in frustration. Frustration at the patriarchy and women’s expectations?

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