Assignment 3 – Feedback and reflection

It has taken a little longer than usual, but at last I have received my Tutor Feedback for Assignment 3. This is my first feedback under new tutor David Wyatt, and I have to say that it’s the most detailed feedback that I’ve received during my studies with OCA. I get a strong sense that David has really taken the time to read and understand the context behind this work, and for that, I am very grateful. As usual, I’ve ‘cut & paste’ my feedback below with my own reflective thoughts in Red.

 Formative feedback

Formative feedback Student name Adam Newsome  Student number 512403 
Course/Unit C&N  Assignment number
Type of tutorial Written

Overall Comments 

Overall this was a good submission for assignment 3. I was impressed that you tackled an uncomfortable and personal subject. This is not always easy, but by photographing yourself it will become easier to empathise with others who you are asking to pose for your camera. There was little for me to add technically about the photographs as they were all fine –what was more interesting was the thinking going on behind the camera, and this of course is what the Context and Narrative module is all about.

Very positive opening remarks, not a lot more for me to say here really. 

Feedback on assignment 

Demonstration of technical and Visual Skills, Quality of Outcome, Demonstration of Creativity 

I found the approach here effective for your goals. The sequencing of the images is important, separating the food and drink from the body images, and I think this works well. You could certainly add more in your self-reflection. You might consider introducing some discussion of semiotics, but that may be a bit much at level 4. If you are interested in pursuing this further I would suggest starting by reading Roland Barthes’, ‘Camera Lucida’. At a basic level, this would allow you to analyse your work to show that the photographs are signifiers for your self-image (the signified). We (in western society) understand that the junk food is what makes you overweight because they are signs that we associate, through a complex series of social constructs, with being overweight. This however ignores a different social construct –that your body in its present condition is bad. Who says it is? What is it that makes you feel negative about your body image? There has been an awful lot written about this in regards to women, especially looking at advertising and women’s magazines, but the same forces apply to men. This could be an interesting avenue for you to pursue in the essay for assignment 4.

I hadn’t considered using the ‘Self-Assessment’ as a means to deconstruct and critique my own photographs. Perhaps the use of some reflective practice prior to submission is required which will help to demonstrate my theoretical understanding and perhaps improve the overall effect of the images. Semiotics is still a relatively new concept to me, and I have just started exploring Deconstruction for Part 4. I like the idea of continuing with this theme for Assignment 4, which my help to further my own cause.

As you have presented the work here as a book, have you thought about how to present it at assessment? Will you print the book or keep it online? I would avoid services such as Blurb, so your best bet is to print and bind it yourself or use a Zine printing company –either a local printers or a specialist such as Ex Why Zed. If you want to print it yourself and hand bind it let me know and I will forward some resources (I also tutor on a book design module). There are some excellent books on the subject and, once you have the basic gear (i.e. an awl, some waxed thread, some bulldog clips and a needle), it’s a straightforward process.

I’m undecided at the moment. My gut is telling me to go for a Blog Only submission as I did for AoP. That said, I believe the whole submission process has changed significantly, and this may not even be an option anymore. My concern with Zine printing companies is the cost, given my relatively few pages. I’ll think about this over the next few months, especially given that I want to follow-up the assignment with the ending. I am however very grateful for my tutors offer of assistance in this area. I may well take him up on it.

Coursework 

Demonstration of technical and Visual Skills, Demonstration of Creativity 

I read through the exercises and feel you have been approaching them well. I actually agree with your answer to the question, “Can you think of any photographs that are not used as a means of expression or communication?” As photography is a method of communication, even if that discussion is between one person at different times (think of record photographs for weight loss that no one else will ever see), there is still a level of communication happening.

A good point that I’d not considered. Thank you.

Research 

Context, reflective thinking, critical thinking, analysis 

Your independent research touched nearly every base I was going to add to the suggested reading so well done, you have even found one I wasn’t familiar with –Charles Latham. I read through some of the posts and they are all examples of good practice so all I will say is keep doing what you are doing.

This is very encouraging, and makes me think that I’m on the right track. I’ll do just that.

Learning Log 

Context, reflective thinking, critical thinking, analysis 

It was good to see you networking with another student and visiting an exhibition. I recommend taking part in as many of the organized study visits as you can. These provide you with a structured session looking at work with your fellow students. I would also recommend networking with students not only from your module but other levels and modules, and even other disciplines. This can help you understand different approaches to ideas and how different practices operate.

I’m currently booked on the Martin Parr study visit at the Hepworth in March.

Suggested reading/viewing 

Context 

You have covered most of the obvious bases in your research posts. One photographer you might like to investigate is Jo Spence. Spence used her camera to document her illness so is a little different, but is still using the camera to explore her identity through self-portraiture. http://www.jospence.org/

The next assignment calls for you to write a short essay. There is an excellent framework for analyzing a single image in Wells, L. 2004. (3rd edn) Photography: a Critical Introduction. London: Routledge. In the 3rd edition it is on page 37, but this is likely to be different in more recent versions. It is within the first chapter, ‘Thinking about Photography’, authored by Wells along with Derrick Price. The framework features a case study looking at Dorothea Lange’s famous ‘Migrant Mother’ picture.

It might be interesting to continue the thread of this project, writing specifically about body image in men. As you will have noticed this is an underdeveloped area so might prove interesting. 1000 words is very short so you shouldn’t have a problem with a lack of appropriate material on which to base your argument, in fact, keeping the paper down to 1000 words is likely to be the hardest task.

Make sure you reference the paper appropriately –the OCA uses the Harvard referencing system. It is good practice to maintain a database of all of your reading materials and quotes. Personally I use Endnote but there are other options. The key thing is to record details of quotes and books as you read them because, and I speak from experience here, it is almost impossible to find a specific quote 5 years after you initially read something.

If you need advice on this or on more general essay structure feel free to get in touch. If I can’t offer a specific answer I do know of several very good books on academic writing.

All excellent pointers that will help to ignite my research into Assignment 4.

Pointers for the next assignment

Think about what you want to write about in advance, and then create a basic series of points that cover the structure of the essay.

Try to identify at least 3 different sources for any facts you present as this shows good academic rigor.

Consider exploring male body image within the paper, or at least a specific example of it. This would fit in well with your work here, and keep it on your mind as you try to change your habits.

Tutor name David Wyatt
Date 27/2/16
Next assignment due 10/4/16

Overall, I think my tutor is relatively pleased with this assignment and the study leading up to it. There are certainly no negative comments (or even any real critique) to speak of that would make me think otherwise. It’s fair to say that I’m very pleased with my tutors feedback.

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Assignment 3 – Establishing a narrative

My last post covered a broad array of ideas and considerations for the approach to this assignment. The most vital aspect of the series is the narrative, and how I intend to communicate it. To that end, I’ve tried to articulate the 3 ideas that I’ve had for achieving my intent, which as a reminder was:

To create a series of Self-Portraits that document/narrate my current body image in order to help drive a change in my approach to health & fitness. This will be achieved by creating a series of confrontational, honest photographs that will act as a visual and psychological stimulus.

As before, I’ve used a mind-map as it helps me to focus on the details (click for larger image).

Ideas

Idea 1: Contradiction.

This idea came as a bit of an epiphany. I’m currently doing a 366 project on Flickr which is just for fun. Whilst out for a run a few days ago, I was trying to take a Selfie with my mobile phone (which I use for tracking my runs). It occurred to me that we often live a contradictory double life. We post egotistical, narcissistic images on social media, creating a perception of happiness and perfection amongst our friends, families and online followers. Secretly, I feel I’ve been doing this with my 366 project, which has almost become a bit of a photographic diary. But the truth is often not so forthcoming. It’s all well and good me posting selfies or ‘late photographs’ post run, but the truth be told, I’m unfit and overweight and suffer from Negative Body Image. Could a series of contradictions, the Ideal self vs the Real self work? Perhaps juxtapositions of the contrasts in a book format? Or the creation of contradictory social media profiles? I think that this idea may be worth exploring further in line with the work of Charles Latham or Amelia Ulman (whom I’ve just discovered).

Idea 2: Shame/Guilt.

Inspired by Lathams image; Same Old Shit (cited in research post), I’m drawn towards the idea of playing with the emotions surrounding my body image. Rather than suppress the guilt and shame of eating/drinking too much and not doing enough exercise, I need to confront them. This could provide just the stumuli I need, and could also produce some thought provoking photographs.

Idea 3: Brutal Honesty.

This was my original idea and is the one that I keep coming back to. Simple, Confrontational, Honest photographs of my worst bits, and the things I need to change. I like simplicity in a photograph but am worried that I may not be challenging myself enough (creatively) with a series like this.

I’m going to take some time to think about my options and perhaps do some experimenting with each of the ideas. Who knows where it may take me.

Assignment 3 – Brainstorming

Having formed an outline idea for Assignment 3, and having done some initial research, I thought it wise to clarify my intent and to do some thinking about how I might actually go about creating this series of images in line with the Intent. Rather than create a rather inflexible Research Proposal as I have in the past, I want to leave more room for manoeuvre and allow some creative ebb and flow. In essence, I kind of want this series to develop itself, and to see where making these images takes me.

The Intent:

To create a series of Self-Portraits that document/narrate my current body image in order to help drive a change in my approach to health & fitness. This will be achieved by creating a series of confrontational, honest photographs that will act as a visual and psychological stimulus.

The how and why:

My previous posts explaining the development of this idea will answer the ‘Why’. In order to develop the ‘How’, or at least provide a starting point from which to creatively develop the idea, I have done some brainstorming (click for larger image):

Assignment 3- Approach (how & why?)

Assignment 3- Approach (how & why?)

Whenever I start to get an idea and look at the work of other artists, I end up with a plethora of secondary and tertiary thoughts about What, Where, When, Who, How etc. Many of these thoughts are soon forgotten, so I like to dump as much as I can on paper/computer to help me out later. Like short-hand writing, the mind-map above provides enough of a reminder for me to recall the original thought that prompted it. I won’t try and cover each and every one of these points for you, but there are a few key areas that should be explained, and this may prompt me to expand on them further.

Subject/Sub-Subject:

Although I will be the subject of the series, the sub-subject is my Body Image and desire to change it. How I go about achieving this is yet to be decided. I am not keen to be recongnisable in the photographs, largely because I featured in each photo for Assignment 2. I also want to remove any form of Ego from the photo’s. I have noted some thoughts on the actual content of the photographs, which may help me decide how I’m going to achieve my intent. Do I use my whole self to communicate the issue or focus in on isolated body parts. To me, the mirror is associated with a lot of negative body image, and could therefore feature quite heavily. Do I concentrate on physicality or do I explore some of the psychology behind my body image? Should I also look outwardly at factors which affect my Body Image such as Foods, Stigma, Lifestyle or My proffession?

Style:

Early consideration should be made to how I want the Individual Photo’s and the series as a whole to look. Not only do I need the series to hold together, and be narrative/documentary in nature, I want each image to be capable of standing alone, aesthetically and narratively. Some of the style will be dictated by the Intent and composition, which will in-part dictate the lighting setup’s to be used. Decisions on the use of B&W or colour must be made and the format of the photographs should assist in the reading of the image.

The Setting:

The setting of the Photographs is a highly important factor and requires careful consideration. Care must be taken to be mindful of the background and composition of each photograph in order to either retain simplicity and lack of distractions or to correctly place signifiers that will develop interest and understanding. The setting is also one of my greatest limitations. I do not have a studio, and live in a small home. The setting will largely be dictated by the Sub-Subject and limitation and will in turn influence the Style.

Influences:

There is some great contemporary work out there already in this genre, but what can I take from it? What have I learnt from it? and how can I apply that to my own work?

Narrative:

This is linked directly to the intent: What do I want to communicate?

Context:

What are the circumstances surrounding the creation of this work? How will it be interpreted? Where does it belong? Much of the context is found in the research and development of the series, but a lot of thought still needs to go in to how it will look, how it will be presented and where it will belong when it is finished.

Assignment 3 – Research – More Body Image self-portraits

Within the genre of Self-Portraiture, it would appear that Body Image is actually a very common theme. This is largely due to wider societal views on the acceptance of obesity, and the constant barrage of media containing near perfect models. That said, the majority, if not all of the work I have come across is aimed at seeking acceptance of ones body image, either by the author or by the viewer (i.e. changing public perception). I have found very little that seems to want to shock the author into making a change in order to fit-in with the accepted norm which I struggle to understand. I’m not talking about being shallow, and conformist, I’m talking about being a healthier, fitter, more attractive person. Why are all of these artists going out of their way to accept who they are, rather than change for the better? Some have, such as Jen Davis, who did not set out to change, but who’s self portraits over a prolonged period prompted her to do so. She is visibly happier in the self portraits post weight-loss. I have also noticed that the majority of photographic work about Self Image is by female artists, which speaks volumes about how body image is perceived between the genders.

Whilst researching these types of self-portrait I came across numerous artists and works, of which there are too many to discuss in detail. There were however a few key images/artists that have given me some food for thought.

The first image is one I came across on the National Geographic website, submitted in a competition by a subscriber:

Liesa, S. Inch Perfect (2015)

Liesa, S. Inch Perfect (2015)

Since I began thinking about this assignment, this is how I have envisioned my images looking. Which now means that I will suffering from a lack of originality and creativity! What I like about the image is that it confronts the viewer, it’s in your face, there is no escaping the truth thats in front of you. The use of the tightened tape-measure connotes a desire to be thinner and what society expects, whilst denoting the current situation that the author finds themselves in. A picture of just belly fat may connote acceptance. The side lighting creates tone and shadow which accentuates the form, depth and texture. It’s simple and straightforward. There is no ego or narcissism involved. The 2 things that I’m not too sure about are the format/crop and the use of colour. These are areas that I have still to consider more deeply.

The next series of images that I came across are from a body of work entitled Wait Watchers by Haley Morris-Cafiero. These images struck a chord for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I think the idea/concept is genius. In the images, Morris-Cafiero captures strangers giving her funny looks or making fun of her behind her back. By photographing this act, she is essentially turning the gaze back on to the stranger, allowing the judgemental to be judged. Again, Morris-Cafiero seems to be accepting of her Body Image. She does not seem fazed by societies view of her, or by other peoples opinions. Although she is in each photo, she is not the subject.

waitwatchers-9

The last photographer that I think is worth a mention is Samantha Geballe who has done multiple projects about her own Self Image, both before and after Weight Loss Surgery. Unlike Jen Davis, who attempted to find or create a beauty in her own Self Image, Geballe appears in conflict with herself and societal views which have caused her anxiety and stress. Within her photos she uses awkward poses (huddled, exposed in the great outdoors or arms wrapped tightly around herself). She confronts the camera and viewer with her gaze, she hides away using camouflage and the style of her photographs add to the drama. The use of High Contrast B&W images implies the state of mind and removes colour as a distraction, and double exposures are used to photograph her anguish.

enhanced-32264-1433864027-2

Bibliography

Inch perfect photo by Liesa S. — national geographic your shot (2015) Available at: http://yourshot.nationalgeographic.com/photos/3587431/ (Accessed: 25 January 2016).
Sanchez, G. H. (no date) 10 emotional self-portraits that express the anxiety of body image. Available at: http://www.buzzfeed.com/gabrielsanchez/self-portraits-on-body-image#.rjDB4m4dpX (Accessed: 27 January 2016).
Self-Untitled: Phase 1 (no date) Available at: http://www.samanthageballe.com/selfportraitseries/2014/10/27/cgkoauacw7or34iifpu2hdml7j4qzo (Accessed: 27 January 2016).
Zhang, M. (2013) Woman photographs herself receiving strange looks in public. Available at: http://petapixel.com/2013/02/11/woman-photographs-herself-receiving-strange-looks-in-public/ (Accessed: 27 January 2016).

Assignment 3 – Research – Jen Davis

Continuing with my research into Body Image within Self Portraiture, I came across the photographer Jen Davis, and her series 11 years, which has seen multiple exhibitions and has been published in a book of the same name.

Davis spent 11 years making self portraits using a 4×3 view camera. Initially, she began taking the photographs as a means to explore her own insecurities and as a means of coming to terms with her body. After 9 years, her work was widely exhibited and well received, but Davis, who has always been overweight, noticed that she had changed very little over the years. What began with the aim of helping her come to terms with her own body, ended up prompting Davis into weight loss surgery which resulted in the rapid loss of 110lbs. The last few images in the series go on to narrate the next few years, post weight-loss.

There are of course sub-narratives to the series which highlight Davis’ feelings of isolation, her fantasies and desire for acceptance in a society that has preconceived ideas about what makes a woman beautiful or attractive. All of these narratives are accentuated by the length of the project.

The project was prompted by an initial photograph, taken whilst at the beach with friends.

Pressure Point (2002)

Davis, J. Pressure Point (2002)

Davis talks about this image in several interviews as being the starting point for her self-portraits. Dressed very reservedly whilst surrounded by slim friends wearing revealing clothing, she was drawn to explore the insecurities she felt on seeing the photograph.

In essence, this was her “call to action”, albeit, her intent was to be able to accept her body image, whereas mine is to change it.

What I find most interesting is the changing context of this series. Initially, the work was created by Davis, for Davis, in much the same way that I want to create Photographs for me. The work was then appropriated into the gallery as Art, before Davis made the decision to undergo surgery. After the weight loss, the cycle started over, with Davis documenting her ‘new self’ before the work was again appropriated in to the gallery and then a book.

So where is the relevance, if any? For a start, I do not have such a large amount of time over which to complete my project. I find Davis’ work to be exploratory, Psychologically rather than Physically, where as I see my work being the opposite.  Pressure Point is an exception. When taking this first photograph, Davis had no intention to create an 11 year long project. She didn’t even have an intention of making a series. It was her reaction to this image that prompted the series. It was therefore her psychological reaction to seeing the physical bodies within the photo that drove her. That is what I’m after. 11 Years is a narrative in the true sense. It has a beginning, middle and a happy ending. I see no other option with my project than for it to be open ended. At least it will be at the point of submission, but I can of course continue it into the future. I’ve already expressed a desire to create my series objectively, which I think Davis has done with Pressure Point. Later images however are more subjective, and we see her take on the role of an actress playing herself. Contextually, Davis asks as many questions about wider society as she does about herself, whereas I intend to be more inwardly focused.

I have found looking at this series to be very interesting, and it has demonstrated that personally driven work, when combined with the bravery and integrity to confront their own insecurities, can inspire the author to make quite drastic changes.

Bibliography

Eleven years (no date) Available at: http://clampart.com/2014/04/eleven-years/#/1 (Accessed: 26 January 2016).
Greig, A. (2014) Self-portraits inspire obese photographer to lose 110 pounds. Available at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2633497/Woman-spends-11-years-photographing-overweight-body-try-love-come-accept-societys-view-ends-resorting-gastric-band-surgery.html (Accessed: 25 January 2016).
Jen Davis | ‘Photo series discusses body acceptance,’ bustle (2014) Available at: http://clampart.com/2014/05/jen-davis-photo-series-discusses-body-acceptance-bustle/ (Accessed: 26 January 2016).
Michigan Humanities (2014) ‘Eleven years’ – Jen Davis Exhibition. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8qHHV7jFDcs (Accessed: 26 January 2016).
Salter, K. (2013) Jen Davis interview: The skin I was in. Available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/photography/9930597/Jen-Davis-interview-The-skin-I-was-in.html (Accessed: 26 January 2016).

Assignment 3 – Research – Charles Latham

When considering my subject of Self Image, Insecurity and Self -Loathing for Assignment 3, I instantly thought back to images I’d seen by Charles Latham from a series entitled Cyrus (2006) in  Auto focus: The self-portrait in contemporary photography. In the book, Bright describes the creation of this series (three images total), as occuring after Latham, in response to the break up of a relationship, posted photos of himself enacting self-harm online.  The heated response provoked Latham to find a more constructive means of investigating the source of this impulse, and this resulted in the creation of Cyrus, an imaginary friend. Latham projected onto Cyrus his insecurities, feelings of self-loathing, and anxieties as a means of personifying these aspects of himself with which he was struggling, essentially creating an abject Self.

In the photographs, Latham poses himself as mediator between Cyrus and the viewer, making the images less confrontational, and giving them a sense of ‘dealing with the issues at hand’. I think that the creation of these images acted as a form of therapy for Latham, helping him to either conquer his demons or at least to better understand his impulse to self harm. By essentially taking on a character, Latham has removed narcissism and ego from the equation and created very considered images which portray a relationship between the different sides of Latham’s self.

Have these images, or the process of making them provided Latham with any form of catharsis? Did they stop him self harming and help him achieve a better state of mind? I don’t know. I hope so. Finding anything out about Latham is hard work. Regardless, I’m not sure that Cyrus provides me with any real inspiration because I feel that my own aims for Assignment 3 are quite different from what Latham wanted to achieve in his photographs. I specifically want to project my insecurities on to myself as a viewer, or to other viewers of the work and am not creating the work for catharsis, but as a means of confronting a truth that thus far, I’ve been trying not to admit. It would have been very easy to dismiss Latham at this point, but just because I didn’t find inspiration in Cyrus, I still found it very interesting, and so dug a little deeper.

Latham is a difficult man to track down. He does not seem to be a photographic artist in the traditional sense, but I did manage to find his website and Instagram account. (unfortunately I couldn’t find any interviews or transcripts). There are many self-portraits on both sites, and despite any form of text or explanation, there is a general undertone of Self Image with references to excessive weight and obesity. From the visual language used in the images, I get the a sense that Latham is using his later self portraits as a form of self-acceptance of his Body Image and size, rather than as a vehicle for change, as opposed to earlier photographs in which he appears shameful of his increasing size.

Same old shit

Latham, C. Same Old Shit (no date).

 This earlier image of Latham (on the right) speaks of a shame and/or submission to weight/appetite or even temptation. The masterful pose of the headless figure tells me that the physical body is in control of the mind, that Latham has all but given in to being a slave to food. I feel that there is a significance in both subjects occupying an equal half of the frame, and that is has something to do with a relationship and an equal level of responsibility for the situation. Despite there being a lot of images on his website, very few are taken in this format. The majority are square format Instagram photo’s of found situations, but which are evidently very well considered and composed.

The 3 photo’s above are almost self exploratory. They are taken from angles not normally seen by the naked eye or in a mirror. To take such photo’s and publish them on social media is very brave and, if the author is indeed trying to accept his size and weight, then they are almost re-affirming to the world how he visualises himself. Interspersed amongst these images are a lot of photographs of food such as this one:

Latham, C, Untitled (no date)

Latham, C, Untitled (no date)

The foodstuffs range from Burgers to Ice Cream, to Waffles, to McDonalds. The things that they all have in common is that they are unhealthy, fried, high in sugar and stereotypically American. Again, given the Social Media tool used to create these images, and their distribution amongst self portraits, they communicate a self-acceptance. That he is a product of fast food, consumerism and American culture. This is reaffirmed by other, absented self-portraits which include signifiers such as weighing scales.

But where do these fit into my Assignment? For a start, I look at them and feel a slight fear. I see what I could become, not only fat, but accepting of the matter. They therefore work in regards to my own intent so I could see myself producing something similar, but without the element of acceptance. I would need to create photographs that shock me into action.

Bibliography

Bright, S. (2010) Auto focus: The self-portrait in contemporary photography. London: Thames & Hudson.
Latham, C. (no date) Charles and the Sofa Beast. Available at: http://charlesandthesofabeast.tumblr.com (Accessed: 25 January 2016).
Latham, C. (no date) Instagram photo by Charles Latham Jul 2, 2012 at 10: 30pm UTC. Available at: https://www.instagram.com/p/MmGZglo7QR/ (Accessed: 25 January 2016).
Latham, C. (no date) Instagram photo by Charles Latham Jun 22, 2012 at 11: 42pm UTC. Available at: https://www.instagram.com/p/MMerlfI7f-/ (Accessed: 25 January 2016).
Latham, C. (no date) Instagram photo by Charles Latham Jun 28, 2012 at 6: 27pm UTC. Available at: https://www.instagram.com/p/MbXXv8o7eh/ (Accessed: 25 January 2016).

Assignment 3 – Research – What do I want to achieve by photographing myself?

For a change, I haven’t had to labour over a suitable subject for an assignment, but Self-Portraiture really isn’t as easy as it sounds. The first thing to come to mind when I thought of contemporary Self-Portraiture was the Selfie. But would a series of Selfies, whether shot on a smart-phone or an expensive camera be suitable for a degree level assignment? The problem for me is just how ubiquitous they are, regardless of their meaning or content. Anyone can snap a Selfie on their mobile phone and share it to Instagram, Facebook or Twitter, but these types of photograph or snapshot are rarely ‘considered’, ‘thought out’ and used to communicate something other than that narcissistic need to show the world just how good the subjects life is on social media. I decided to explore the notion of Selfies further. According to Arpad Kovacks, curator of the Getty exhibition, In Focus:

The self-portrait and the selfie are two separate, though at times overlapping, efforts at establishing and embellishing a definition of one’s self. Qualities like medium specificity, deeply rooted histories, and traditions (or lack thereof) that define these efforts only superficially differentiate the two. What has greater weight is the selfie’s inherently replaceable and even disposable quality. If after taking a picture of oneself the results are unsatisfactory, it is easily forgotten and replaced by a new picture. The self-portrait, whether it is a carefully composed study or created in haste, often contains more decisions than could be easily erased. Calling a self-portrait by Rembrandt a selfie is not only anachronistic, it also negates the carefully calculated set of decisions that created the rendering. This does not mean that selfies cannot be self-portraits, or that selfies by nature require the opposite of calculated intent. An artist could choose to represent him or herself through selfies; however, self-portraits don’t immediately signify selfies.

As far as Kovaks is concerned, a Selfie is ill-conceived and easily replaced/deleted (most of the time), where as a Self Portrait is meant to last having been created in a considered and thoughtful manner. I would have to agree with this, otherwise, are not all Selfie-takers artists?

Another view is that of writer and theorist Alli Burness:

Self-portraits are created to be read as art, are displayed in museums or galleries, and we are granted permission to view them as texts, functioning independently from the intent of the artist. Selfies are borne of vernacular photography practices and are brought into museums and galleries by visitors. It is perilous to read selfies in the same way as art, to ignore the context of their social interaction and the intent of the selfie-taker. It is important to remember these images are shared as part of a conversation, a series of contextual interactions and are connected to the selfie-maker in an intimate, embodied and felt way. We are allowed to leave these elements out of our reading of artist’s self-portraits.

In Burness’ view, it is about the intent of the author. With regards to this assignment then, it is the intent that I need to define if I am to create meaningful Self Portraits as an Artist.

So now I find myself in the same predicament as every other assignment, where I need to define a subject, or in this case an intent. What is it I want to achieve by photographing myself?  Truth be told, I’m not a big fan of taking my own photograph, unless it’s a holiday snap. I am not a compulsive Selfie taker and would consider myself an introvert. I have used myself as an actor in previous assignments purely due to not having anyone else available.

I have re-visited the diary that I kept for 3 weeks at the beginning of this project. (I have decided not to upload it to this blog due to its personal nature). Despite my reservations, this turned out to be a useful exercise. A lot has changed since I kept the diary. Christmas has been and gone, my family and I have moved house, I’ve started a new job, my son has started at nursery, and our circle of friends is changing post-move. But despite all of that, there are key elements of the ‘pre-move’ diary that I can strongly relate to which all fall under the banner of ‘Self-Image’.

To cut a long story short, prior to Xmas, I was concerned about the amount of weight I’d put on recently, and my lack of physical fitness. I made an effort to go running regularly and to improve my diet, both of which fell by the wayside. Over Christmas, my weight has increased further, and my physical fitness has decreased. Now don’t get me wrong, I am not obese. I wouldn’t even go so far as to say I’m fat. But I am overweight in so far as I am carrying excess body fat. I do not suffer from Body Dysmorphia or any other weight related illness. In fact, I’m just a pretty average person who’s put on a few pounds and is struggling with the motivation to lose it.

Reflecting on this, I’m now at a point where I need to be brutally honest with myself, and I need to make changes. This is both Psychological (a matter of both negative self-image and increased self-consciousness resulting in a diminished self-worth) and Physiological (more weight = lower fitness/slower, increased health risks etc). It also doesn’t help that I’m a self-confessed Fattist.

Before you judge, let me explain; I am not an extreme Fattist, I don’t hate fat people, give them menacing glares, or treat them unfairly as per the dictionary definition of a Fattist. I do however feel a general dislike towards Fat people. I have always believed that people are fat because they lack self-control/self-discipline and because they are lazy and/or greedy. I also believe that they receive unfair advantage at the expense of others. They are a drain on the health service, and despite the ‘condition’ being completely self-inflicted and preventable, are not charged for treatment/transport. When getting a flight, If my baggage is 2Kg’s overweight, I am charged Excess Baggage Allowance despite my own weight being 76Kg. Yet a Fat person, who weighs 90kg+ who’s baggage is within the allowance, doesn’t get charged for their ‘Excess Baggage’. And then some poor bugger (normally me, having just been charged Excess Baggage) has to sit next to their oversized sweaty carcass, when really, they should be charged for 2 seats! They drive around town centres and shops on mobility scooters as if they have a disability which only compounds the issue, but now I’m ranting so I’ll stop there.

I know there’s a lot more to it than this simple summary. For some it’s because of illness (hyperthyroidism for example), and for others, they’ve had unhealthy lifestyles thrust upon them since childhood (poor parenting). But in general, these Fattist views are preconceptions that I’ve had for as long as I can remember. And herein lies the problem. I’ve never had to worry about my weight. Until a few years ago, I could eat what I wanted, when I wanted, and not put on weight. I didn’t need to do much exercise to maintain my fitness, I just had to keep myself ‘ticking over’ to meet the Army’s physical fitness requirements. However, over the past few years, as I’ve progressed through the ranks, my job has become a lot more sedentary and managerial, working from behind a desk. My lifestyle is more comfortable, I enjoy eating, and drinking, and I also smoke occasionally. And with age comes a slower metabolism. In the past 3 years, my body shape has changed quite dramatically. I can no longer fit into jeans or shirts that I used to wear, I have a gut, love handles and Moobs. Because of the excess weight I’m carrying, I find running to be more difficult which discourages me. I’ve never had to diet or resist temptation, and didn’t realise just how difficult it was. For the first time, I’m beginning to empathise with fat people. On the flip side, I’ve always looked at the obese and wondered “at what point did you realise you were getting that big, and decide not to do anything about it?

For me, now is that time, but I need a kick up the arse! I have this self loathing, whenever I eat something I know I shouldn’t, when I enjoy a pint of ale in all its calorific hoppy glory, whenever I don’t go for the run I know I should, and whenever I look in the mirror. But I lack will-power. I don’t want other people like me, judging me. I don’t want that stigma. I want to be a fighting fit professional soldier. I want to live long enough to see my son grow into adulthood and I want to be fit enough to play football with him. With fitness and negative Body Image being the key drivers to my success in loosing weight, I’m hoping that a series of revealing self portraits will act as the visual stimuli that I need, to make the changes I want, and to maintain a healthier lifestyle.

So what do I want to achieve? I want to create a series of images which narrate how I negatively perceive my body, in order to contextually act as a visual reminder of the changes I need to make. I want to explore my negative body image and self loathing through photography. Essentially I want my self portraits to say something about me, to me. Something I need (not want) to hear; That I’m getting fat and need to do something about it! I want them to be the polar opposite of the glorified selfie.

With this initial idea brewing, I decided to look more at Self-Image, what it means, the Psychology of it, and how I perceive my own physical body. This began with a Mind-Mapping exercise which can be found here:

Mind Map – My Negative Body Image – What is it?

As I began to look deeper at Self-Image, I veered off into the realms of Fattism and other areas of research in a bid to remain objective about myself as a subject. This objectivity is quite important. If I want to show myself how I look in order to promote change, I must do so knowing that it was done objectively. There must be a ‘truth’ to the photographs. If the images are knowingly taken in a subjective manner, this will inevitably lead to me making excuses further down the line when I am lacking will-power. I also want to expand on the context of the work. Rather it be purely personal, I would like the images to resonate with others, so that perhaps other people who are struggling to find motivation, may find some in the photographs.

Bibliography

Alleyne, R. (2011) Half of British soldiers are obese or overweight. Available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/defence/8538939/Half-of-British-soldiers-are-obese-or-overweight.html (Accessed: 25 January 2016).
Body shape (2016) in Wikipedia. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Body_shape (Accessed: 25 January 2016).
Bright, S. (2010) Auto focus: The self-portrait in contemporary photography. London: Thames & Hudson.
Cambridge Dictionaries Online (2016) Fattist meaning in the Cambridge English dictionary. Available at: http://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/fattist (Accessed: 25 January 2016).
Macrae, F. (2013) How we start being ‘fattist’ at four: Study finds children would not think of overweight person as a potential friend. Available at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2324652/How-start-fattist-Study-finds-children-think-overweight-person-potential-friend.html (Accessed: 25 January 2016).
Overweight (2015) in Wikipedia. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Overweight (Accessed: 25 January 2016).
Self-image (2015) in Wikipedia. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Self-image (Accessed: 25 January 2016).
The importance of a positive self image: What’s your internal voice saying? (no date) Available at: http://www.mtstcil.org/skills/image-2.html (Accessed: 25 January 2016).

Citations, Quotes & Annotations

Stephan, A. (2015) ‘What’s the difference between a Selfie and a self-portrait? | the Getty Iris’, 21 January. Available at: http://blogs.getty.edu/iris/whats-the-difference-between-a-selfie-and-a-self-portrait/ (Accessed: 26 January 2016).
(Stephan, 2015)