regarding self-portraits

Behind the camera, I am comfortable. I see the light, engage with the subject, compose the shot. I click the shutter. And again. Change positions a little, higher or lower, from a different angle, closer. Closer again. Pull the camera away. Reset. Begin again.

This I know.

Out in front, when I am the subject? This is another story altogether.

When I brought this up with Kristina the other day, she commented, “Madre, this is my camera face.” Picture her chin dipped, face turned a little to the side, a twinkle in her eye that suggests mischief, and a tipped-up grin. “And this is yours.” Picture a deer head, frozen and devoid of expression, eyes wide to the fact of the oncoming 18-wheeler.

She is exactly right. Or she has been. Because I’m working on it. I really am.

The comfort and ease exhibited by Bon in this post gives me a sense of what I am aiming for, what I am inspired by. The photographer who made these photos said this:

The roundabout point is that it’s a constant labour to look courageously at glass
and trust the person wielding it.
~Kate Inglis

A week or two after Kristina came home from her freshman year at college, we sat down on the couch with baby photo albums. We never tire of this. New stories emerge, memories are reaffirmed, we marvel at the many changes since then.

In those pages, I discovered two self-portraits I made with Kristina (on film) when she was much younger.

These I treasure. I seem more comfortable, next to her. Not a tragically frightened deer – just a person.

I also came across this one, from when we attended the Brandi Carlile concert at Woodland Park Zoo last summer.

The tickets were a Mother’s Day gift from Kristina, and we had so much fun. That was the concert when Dave Matthews casually sauntered out for a short set with Brandi. NBD. (See what she means about the camera faces?)

Last fall, I started an intentional effort to take more self portraits, with mixed results. I’ve taken more since then, but not posted them – not avoiding them, it just hasn’t happened yet.

I had fun with the ones I made last fall, but I can’t say that I’m excited about the ones since. They don’t have much variety. Maybe I need to take another look at Xanthe’s collection for inspiration. Or Susannah Conway’s. Or maybe Meredith Winn’s.

Maybe I need to trust the person wielding the camera. Ahem.

Today, I read this post about a photographer who has made a series of mother-daughter self-portraits. These were made with intentional way, composed with a specific vision. Aglaé Bory, the photographer, has this to say:

Photography shows and freezes things, I try to see what is invisible, to show what is hidden, to freeze what is volatile. I especially love doing this because photography is dealing with tangible reality so I try to explore the power of photography by approaching its boundaries as a medium.

The cable release in my hand is visible, so the moment-of-shooting itself is visible too. I like this. These photographs are self-portraits, so I was ‘blind’. I had to imagine the postures, to see not with my eyes, but with my mind. It helped me to go inside myself and reach interiority.

Would this practice help me with self-portraits? To see myself and the composition, not with my eyes, but with my mind? And perhaps, with my heart? Being gentle with myself in this way could make it a more intuitive rather than a technical experience. Aglaé Bory adds this:

Even though the camera is a tool which takes its aim on reality, it does not work of its own accord.
It is a tool to establish relationships.

Maybe this is where the real work is for me: in establishing that relationship with myself. And then capturing it in the photos I make.

Of me.

I hope for two things – an improved comfort in front of the camera, when I am the subject, and an even deeper compassion behind the camera, resulting in better, more vibrant photographs either way.

Where are you more comfortable?


  • Hi, Jet, I just figured out that you’ve been posting again, and I’m trying to catch up. When Karen Walrond started doing those regular selfies, she made it look so simple! For my kids, I wish I were *in* more family snapshots; through an entire year, I’m lucky to find a couple decent pics that include me. I’ve tried taking shots of myself … maybe it just takes more practice. (By the way, your daughter is gorgeous! And definitely photogenic! It looks like she has your pretty eyes. Oh! And I have a necklace like yours! Happy coincidence.)
    Heather Koshiol recently posted..Learn: How to Practice MindfulnessMy Profile

    • Thank you, Heather. I’m emerging from my own illness-imposed time away from things/internet, and I’m eager to catch up on the things you have been creating. I love your blog name so much – I wonder, did that come out of Path Finders, or did you have it already? It’s brilliant.

      I agree, Karen makes it look easy. Does it help that she has absolutely gorgeous bone structure and stunning self-confidence? I know the latter is what makes great photos – all the great genes in the world won’t help if someone is embarassed and hiding from the camera. I was always the one holding the camera, the one capturing the moment on film (or later, pixels). I had to make a point of handing the camera to someone else, or to set up the self-portrait. It didn’t happen very often, as I was uncomfortable in front of the camera. Fortunately, people around me insisted. And I am grateful for this. I think it does take practice.

      And yes, I agree. She is gorgeous, and SO comfortable in front of the camera. My necklace is this one from Lisa Leonard. My word last year was focus. Was yours a one little word necklace, also?

      • Hi, Jet,

        One of Karen’s older blog posts helped me discover my blog’s name. I took a blogging course recently that helped me focus in on what my blog is really about.

        My necklace is an acronym that my best friend & I use with each other. I bought matching necklaces for each of us. I like the idea of wearing your one little word. Something for me to consider as I prepare for my next word of the year.

        This week with my family, I’ve been enjoying a few days away at a state park not far from home. It’s amazing how much restoration can take place just by getting out of the house! I hope you are finding some peace during your grief for Kaylah.

        Heather recently posted..Explore: How Will You Change the World?My Profile

  • That first portrait is beautiful!!!
    One year I did a 365 self portraits. It was hugely healing and transformative for me. It’s in my Flickr…

    • Thank you, Dorothy. That is one of my favourite pics ever of myself, and I’m so glad I finally scanned it in. It’s been a lot for me to conceive of one self-portrait a week – and I haven’t even really done that. I can only imagine what kind of focus and patience and compassion for self it would take to do one every day. And even as I think it, I can see how it could be that healing and transformative experience. You have me thinking now. (Following the rabbit hole to the flickr link now…)

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