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Explorations of Identity in Photographic Portraiture

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Arts
Wordcount: 2819 words Published: 23rd Aug 2021

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Identity is simply the way in which we see and express ourselves. Factors and conditions that an individual is brought into the world with, for example, ethnic legacy, sex, or one’s body—frequently assumed to be the main categories when judging one’s identity. In any case, numerous parts of a human’s identity change all through his or her life. Individual’s encounters can change how they see themselves or are seen by others. As well as, their characters likewise impact the choices they make: Individuals pick their companions, embrace certain styles, and adjust themselves to political convictions dependent on their beliefs. Numerous photographers utilize their work to express, investigate, and question thoughts and opinions regarding identity.

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The photographic representation, with its underlying foundations in mid nineteenth-century France, has ceaselessly tested how we see ourselves. The genuine practice has turned out to be progressively liquid after some time and nearly as hard to get a handle on as the idea of identity itself. Pictures, in their initial frames, demanded their authenticity, a mirror inside the setting of conventional painting. The whole idea of contemporary photographic portraits is to demonstrate the desire to say something regarding us as individuals. A few photographers approach the medium as a way to recount a bigger story, as found in photographs by Shirin Neshat that she made because of the Middle Easterner Spring and, explicitly, to the brutal truth of removal. Other photographers, such as, Andres Serrano, utilize the photographic representation as a methodology to investigate American identity. Still others, for example, the photojournalist Donna Ferrato, use photography as an operator for social change, in this occasion, her campaign against aggressive behaviour at home. Portraits, in the entirety of their decent variety, serve the requirements of the sitter and photographer, as well as the viewer. We search for pieces of information in them to understand our identity as people and the conceivable outcomes of what we could turn out to be; frequently experimenting with numerous identities, particularly when on the cusp of adulthood. The dependence on photography in our very own lives progressively exhibits inquiries regarding portrayal and identity that photographers keep on exploring. In this essay, I am going to be exploring the idea of identity and how it is explored within photographic portraiture. I am going to be looking at the way different photographers such as Jen Davis, Andreas Poupoutsis and Delaney Allen explore identity through their photography.  I would also like to explore different ways in which someone’s identity can be presented in a photograph. I would also like to see if photographers who try to explore this subject, place their own identity in to their own work.

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Jen Davis worked on this project called ‘Self-Portrait’ for over ten years. The series had a huge impact on public’s views on body image. The main purpose of her work was to uncover her battles with the mental and physical effects she had to face due to her weight. Her photographed were instantly recognised due to the refined style and the subject matter behind the images. Her uncommon genuineness and helplessness joined with her comprehension for cautious arrangement and sensitive lighting welcomed the viewer into her life beyond ordinary limits of security. A photograph that stood out to me the most was one of the most-distributed photo ‘Pressure Point’ which shows Davis seating on the beaching, looking lost and out of place surrounded by slimmer bodies. As is normal in her pictures, this photo conveys a genuine feeling associated with a place or an activity, making it simple to identify with her circumstance. From photograph to photograph the viewer follows Davis’ journey of her life, where she constantly has to participate in a world that separates her from others.

The title of the series clarifies that Davis is photographing herself, yet the viewer needs to recognize for themselves the genuineness of the pictures. Although her photographs have a documentary look to them, they are not shot at the real time when a situation takes place, yet every single photograph shows intensity of the real moment and reflects on her genuine emotions. Her photographs are set perfectly in order to represent how she felt during the real moment. She is able to portray not only her identity but also identities of people who surround her. Her photographs show shyness, frustration, awkwardness of a female with a overweight and also catch the looks and expressions of people around her. This body of work demonstrates the identity of women who struggle with their body image. Her identity difficulties are not all that unique in relation to numerous young ladies who are constantly judged by a male look as their bodies bloom into development. However instead of push back against this look, Davis swings to stop self-doubt. As these pictures are self-portraits, it adjusts the manner in which they ought to be comprehended. Davis isn’t being watched and she is not trying to make herself a subject of judgement when creating these pictures, and rather is melding every situation both as the creator and the subject. The reason why I decided to use Davis’ work in my essay, is due her ability to take control of how her identity is presented to public. She has no control over the way society sees her in everyday life, but she took control of how she would present and photograph her own identity. It is her dynamic decision to utilize a straight to the point and self-curious style in photography to analyse ideas of excellence, want, and self-perception. “Photography is the medium that I use to tell my story through life,” Davis writes in her artist statements. It is “an outlet for revealing my thoughts and opinions about the society in which we live. A society that dictates beauty based on one’s physical appearance.” The dimension of imaginative opportunity that Davis permits herself has bit by bit extended throughout the years. She started the arrangement experimenting with recognizable situations before the camera until the point that she could more readily comprehend her emotions about them. From that point forward, self-examination has moved to self-affirmation lastly to self-articulation. She is never going back to being that youthful understudy seeking to discover her place and characterize her identity, as she becomes a woman who asserts her entitlement to be incorporated into our comprehension of magnificence.

In my opinion, Jen Davis is an amazing example, of an inspiring photographer who overcame her own insecurities and explored her identity through her photography. She was able to show viewers not only her physical appearance but also her personality, emotions and fears.

Unlike Jen Davis, Andreas Poupoutsis took a completely different approach when exploring identity using photography. ‘Metamorphosis’ would best portray his innovative process. He is affected by Cubism, shapes, shadows and surfaces. He always found making lovely and unique pictures interesting. He is interested in human faces and particularly the change they experience in his work. He always believed that people are unpredictable with their own fears and misfortunes, who use their experiences to understand the world. He also believed being consistent with ourselves is a standout amongst the most difficult thing we can do. Poupoutsis’ work is secretive, odd and disturbing. His figures and faces regularly rise out of shadows, their appearances covered up or secured, concealing their identities. His work regularly connotates to the scan and battle for individual character. He removes their identity or any conspicuous highlights surrendering it over to the viewer to decide who these people may be. Poupoutsis’ work has been portrayed as being more self-reflecting portraiture than representation that is focusing on the matter. He has always been interested in faces, he has been fascinated by abstract portraits, each face is one of a kind in its own specific manner and that is what inspired his creative ability. He is continually searching for approaches to change that uniqueness and go further into breaking down the identities of individuals.  His work results in the viewer feeling somewhat unwary and even nearly exasperates by these bizarre figures. Poupoutsis’ subjects look troubled and contorted their heads bowed and mouths open. Finding the identity of his subjects carries questions into the viewer’s mind, making these pictures emerge and stick in their brains, unlike a photograph that gives viewers all the answers.  I personally prefer this idea of exploring identity. As I do not think that a photograph of a person’s physical appearance can represent someone’s identity. There is more to a human than their physical looks. When an artist hides the identity of the model by covering their features, it allows the viewer to understand the emotion behind the photograph. Investigating the utilization of a veil and its abilities of both disguising and uncovering, identity that might be lost, yet accentuation is set on the human frame as a unique characteristic that we as people offer.

Finally, this self-portrait series by Delaney Allen make an irregular not extremely conventional way to deal with pictures. Delaney never shows his face, disguises with various textures, taking cover behind air pocket gum or banana and obscured pictures which make us inquisitive to uncover what is holed up behind. Delaney began taking these photos in 2011, most of the shots are extremely insightful, pleasantly arranged in shading and organization, others are simply randomly made on the spot. He was captivated by how they can relate without a moment’s delay to both subject and structure and turn out to be just about a sculptural component. Regularly we like to compare ourselves to others, triguring our self-consciousness. As Delaney says ‘We will in general distinguish ourselves through others-I am her child, their companion, his better half. Be that as it may, how would we understand ourselves when we are separated from everyone else?’ Revealing through covering. Perplexity and Forlornness. He took the identity away from the photo yet at the same time, his photos appear to be intrinsically close to home. When looking at his self-portrait series, I realised how powerful they are when talking about identity. Delaney Allen’s self-portraits are very interesting, never demonstrating his subjects’ countenances completely. His photos are not so much conventional representations but rather inspirations of his voyages, outlook on life, interests, and experiences. Uncovering through covering, portraying through clouding, faces are concealing, bodies disguised, and sentimental scenes obscured through vehicle windows. The subsequent dreams are intrinsically close to home yet, in the meantime, resonate with a rudimentary soul. Dejection, void, disarray, and aching Allen’s days unfurl like scribbles from a shrouded journal. While we never observe his face, we are given an establishment, and through his palette of de-soaked hues and foggy lighting, the sentiments of a solitary man rise. Allen’s photography makes the viewer question the idea of portraiture. What is a portrait? Not really a photo of somebody’s face, but rather a summoning of their tendency, a cautious introduction of some part of truth covered up in regular daily existence.

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After looking at multiple photographers, I discovered that there are different ways to explore identity through photography. I believe that a photograph could never represent someone’s identity fully. An individual has multiple identities that depend on their looks, experiences and even surroundings. Identity can change within seconds, a sudden shift can set off chemical cascades that rearrange our inner landscapes, instantly affecting our views of ourselves and the world around us. As individuals from a species prone inclined to think emblematically, the psyches of the clear majority mulling over their very own characters streak on the work they do, the spots they enjoy participating in, the people they are associated with. Indeed, even on the sorts of cars they drive. Occasionally do they respite to think about their very own physical appearance. When they do, they as a rule contemplate those traits that set them apart: stature or shortness, thickness or slimness, hair and eye colour. To some extent, our brains are sharpened to select contrasts previously thinking about likenesses. There are survival focal points, all things considered, to perceiving “otherness” – and remembering it rapidly. This brings me back to the idea of hidden identity. I think this is the best approach when exploring identity. When a photographer decides to hide the model’s appearance, the viewer gets a chance not to only try and understand the emotion of the subject but also relate to their own identity. Most viewers would see the emotion that relates to them on a personal level. I could that in this case the photographer does not just try to explore the subject’s identity, but also in some way represents viewer’s identity. After looking at work of both Delaney Allen and Jen Davies, I realised that the best way to explore identity is by using self-portraiture. Self-portraiture has always been seen as a very important manner when it came to art and photography history. “How to represent oneself faced to the world” is a urgent, crucial inquiry in such a large number of ways. By utilizing their own identity, photographers address issues encompassing social, political, intimate, and religious subjects, as well as personal matters such as emotions and beliefs. It is important to me to understand how, from an individual view, every one of us can find themselves in a certain photograph. I like the idea of a photographer, who is able to not just give a photograph of themselves, but also let the viewer question the image. When looking at self-portraits, the viewer can debate the reality of the portraits, whether the artist decided to show the raw truth of their identity or manipulate their identity in one way or another. I think there is a link between self-portraiture and identity, as identity can’t be easily explored and using portraiture creates the question of reality and fiction. Going back to the original question, I believe there are too many different ways to explore identity through photographic portraiture and it only depends on the photographer what approach they would use when looking at identities. This topic will always be relevant to us as artists, as we constantly question our personal identities, sexualities, religions, race and nationalities. The questions of ‘Who we are’ will always be relevant.


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  • Andres Serrano. 2018. Andres Serrano. [ONLINE] Available at: http://andresserrano.org/. [Accessed 11 December 2018].
  • DONNA FERRATO PHOTOGRAPHY. 2018. Donna Ferrato Photography . [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.donnaferrato.com/. [Accessed 11 December 2018].
  • Hargreaves, R., 2001. The Beautiful and the Damned: The Creation of Identity in Nineteenth Century Photography. 3rd ed. Lund Humphries Publishers Ltd: Lund Humphries Publishers Ltd.
  • iGNANT.com. 2018. Hidden Self Portraits – iGNANT.com. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.ignant.com/2012/11/13/hidden-self-portraits/. [Accessed 13 December 2018].
  • Jen Davis, (2018), Pressure Point [ONLINE]. Available at: http://flakphoto.com/content/self-portraits-jen-davis-hannah-frieser#photo-2 [Accessed 11 December 2018].
  • Shirin Neshat – Works – Gladstone Gallery. 2018. Shirin Neshat – Works – Gladstone Gallery. [ONLINE] Available at: https://gladstonegallery.com/artist/shirin-neshat/#&panel1-1. [Accessed 11 December 2018].
  • Webster, M. (2018). Definition of IDENTITY. [online] Merriam-webster.com. Available at: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/identity [Accessed 11 Dec. 2018].


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