Self Portrait Challenge: The Political

(From the series, "In the Garden with Heels".)

This week I'm on the topic of self-portrait as I staged a self-portrait photo shoot in my garden last weekend. I'm entering the above photo for this week's Self Portrait Challenge themed "political" over at the SPC blog. This is a first for me as I just became a SPC member this week and this is my first submission (although I've been peeking at their photos for a few months now).

A few years ago, I was at a Chuck Close exhibition with some friends and a very long conversation ensued post-exhibition about the nature of the self-portrait. I'm an advocate (obviously) but one friend was taking the "Isn't it just completely indulgent of the artist?" stance in the conversation. For me, no it isn't indulgent (although all my artwork and poems could be chalked up to being indulgent by some critics but for me it isn't indulgent, it's necessary). For me, self-portraits are about self-analysis and contemplation, questioning identity and context, sharing/ showing, and also about courage to blatantly or subtly insert yourself into the frame. Although, I also understand the argument that we need to reach out to the community around us when we are also reaching in.

But in that post-exhibition debate, I had the feeling that I often have about my or other's artwork (though sometimes can't eloquently explain): that there's something more political happening there too, even if subtly. That there's a bead of resistance (or a huge display of resistance, depending on the piece) that is trying to illuminate a larger issue or address a larger community and often times that community is "political" in one way or another. Even if I can't explain it, often times there is a resistance, a subversion, a questioning, or intentionality that I sense. And within or outside of the context of self-portraits, often times the very term "political" leaves much to the imagination, becomes subjective, and up for interpretation depending on the viewer's own political/ social/ economic context, etc.

So, I spent some time recalling some of my favorite self-portrait artists (or artists who even work w/ self-portraits occasionally) and I came up with a seemingly "feminist" list. Making we wonder if the entire conversation about political self-portraits could be deluded to say that any photograph of a woman, taken by that woman, directed by that woman, and modeled by that woman, is a political, self-empowering comment-on-society, and therefore a "political" act. (And where does self-portrait draw the line? Where's the line, say, between self-portrait and autobiography? And how does that line shift if the work is abstracted or somehow allows for multiple points-of-view?)

Certainly we can, and perhaps should, look to the infamous self-portrait work of Cindy Sherman in referencing self-portraits by women. Or Frida Kahlo. Or Ana Mendieta. Or even my beloved, Kiki Smith for her piece, Pieta. Or a number of artists I'm obviously omitting. But I think, like so many conversations in the arts, no matter how much time we spend defining the phrases "self-portrait" and "political" it will ultimately come down to the individual viewer/ observer/ reader/ audience and also to the context and intentions of the photographer/ poet/ painter/ performance artist and we'll be forced to draw these lines and fine-tune these definitions for our selves.

Phew! And so... on that very long note, today I submit my self-portrait "In the Garden with Heels" for this week's Self Portrait Challenge defined by the theme "political".


  1. very intriguing post - I'm certainly going to ponder whilst in studio today - looking forward also to checking out SPC - I've got a lot of shots framed in my mind and although I love peeling back layers of my work (once complete), I hadn't considered the political overtones of my work - very interesting!

  2. I love this entry - and the photo! I don't see how a self portrait ISN'T political. You are presenting yourself as a woman, a man, maybe a little of both; or with cultural undertones, defiant, selfless or selfish; it’s all subtly political. Saying that a self portrait only indulges the artist -- and I'm talking about an intelligent and interesting artist -- is a one-dimensional comment. If an artist offers a self portrait I think it is to connect with, clash with or mirror the viewer, or an entire community. It is a vulnerable reach-out, isn't it? We all have an ability to be angry, sad, happy, blank, and it's presented in an intense permanent way through art. If it resounds then it is anything but self indulgent. Thanks for the provocation!

  3. taking a picture of another person issues no risk by the artist. the true risk comes in posting even the unattractive parts of ourself. true risk comes from saying, *i think that this shot is truly beautiful!* even when it's simply a cleverly shot photo of us in the garden.

    which by the way, i love the little lilt to your heel. excellent shot!

    for me, this month's challenge feels just a smidge to risky. ;-D maybe i'll gain some moral courage next week *sigh*

  4. **dear friends** thanks for your comments and support on this post. it was an awkward and difficult post for me to write. as always, your comments helped cheer me on to posting the next time. many thanks. xoxo, katrina


Thank you for your comments, friends. I like to think we are creating a dialogue in this space--building a virtual community.