Monday, April 14, 2014

Further Self Examination



 

Self-Portrait @ 16, 1968
(Click on images to see larger)

I’m afraid you’re going to be seeing a lot more of me.
You can blame this on my artist friend Ellen. In the course of my “week of self-indulgence,” Ellen commented:
You are having fun with this idea, aren't you? I would be, too. Carry on! You will have quite the collection before you know it.”
You can also blame Ken, a poet and esteemed professor of poetry. Seeing this series of self-portraits, Ken recalled Edward Arlington Robinson’s poem Rembrandt to Rembrandt
I’ll confess that I probably haven’t read anything by Edward Arlington Robinson since high school. But I did track down and read Rembrandt to Rembrandt, even the obscure parts about Samson, Apollo’s house and the matter of some fifty Dutch florins. You can read it here. It opens with these lines:
And there you are again, now as you are.
Observe yourself as you discern yourself
In your credited ascendency;
Without your velvet or your feathers now,
Commend your new condition to your fate,
And your conviction to the sieves of time.
 I’ve neither velvet nor feathers. If I ever did they were probably metaphorical and I probably squandered them because I didn’t recognize them for what they were. Still, the encouragement of Ellen and Ken compelled me to go back through my archive of photographs and discover that my self-portraits aren’t just a recent phenomenon, but instead date back to my youth. Seen in sequence, they trace an interesting path of life.
This shouldn’t surprise me. If you hang around photography long enough, there are any number of themes you’ll pursue. Some you’ll recognize and some you won’t. The observational photographer will quietly, and sometimes without even noticing it, make vast series of photographs around specific themes or ideas and not discover what he’s been doing until the critical mass of images falls off the edge of his desk (and that’s no metaphor).
There’s no magic to my trove of self-portraits. Some were exercises in artistic curiosity or technical experimentation. Some are the result of being the designated family photographer, especially the designated family travel photographer, which means that when you travel you bring home lots of pictures, but you’re not in any of them.
When this happens, you start looking for reflective surfaces so that you can document that you were there. I took hundreds of pictures of Rome when my wife and daughter and I went there years ago. I’m pretty sure the only visual record of my presence on that trip, though, is a partial reflection in a silver coffee pot. 

  
Biannual Self-Portrait on Vanderbilt Ave, 2010

But seriously, you’ll just have to bear up with these images until they run their course. I don’t know if I’m trying to find something in them or something about myself or perhaps some higher artistic expression for them. All I can say for now is that I won’t know until they’re all out on the table.
I thank you for your patience.

1 comment: