Picbod Self-Portraits Lecture (10/1/13)

Self-portraiture was the theme of Picbod today and the class was introduced to three notions of how to view a self-portrait, either as a message, document or relationship. As this weeks homework is to create a self-portrait which carries some sort of message I thought I’d reflect on those introduced for that particular theme.

'Lucky Tiger' Laurel Nakadate

‘Lucky Tiger’ Laurel Nakadate

'Lucky Tiger' Laurel Nakadate

‘Lucky Tiger’ Laurel Nakadate

My understanding of viewing a self-portrait as a vessel of messages and meanings seemed sound until faced with the work of Laurel Nakadate, in particular her series titled, ‘Lucky Tiger’ which had recently been displayed at the prestigious Saatchi Gallery. The series consists of self-portraits of Nakadate, a beautiful Lolita-esque woman in various sexual poses worthy of those seen in men magazines or soft-core porn. Seen it all before? Maybe, but what’s interesting about the images is what Nakadate decided to do with them next. Nakadate asked middle-aged men via the Internet to look and handle her images whilst having inked fingers. Of course, the fact the men had inked fingers knowingly would perhaps influence their most natural reaction to the images, the final pieces are thought provoking none the less. It raises issues such as power, control and validity. Or maybe whether Nakadate just got off on the idea of men handling sexual pictures of herself. Who knows? Either way I did happen to quite like the idea, even if it does seem a bit odd and attention seeking!

'Hip Hop Project' 2001 Nikki.S.Lee

‘Hip Hop Project’ 2001 Nikki.S.Lee

'Skateboarders Project' 2000 Nikki.S.Lee

‘Skateboarders Project’ 2000 Nikki.S.Lee

The project that appealed to me the most during this idea of a self-portrait being a message was the numerous projects by Nikki. S. Lee. As you look through Lee’s images its as if your watching a dull film then suddenly it becomes bewildering. Her projects consist of images of different social circles, all roughly cropped snapshots with retinas flashed red, resembling those disposable camera shots, highlighting different groups of people for all their stereotypical grandeur. But once you realise the same features appear in every image, its then you realise: Lee is in every photograph: a lesbian with the lesbians, a fly-girl with the Hispanics, a pole dancer with other pole dancers, a grunge skater with skateboarders! Amazement! It’s impressive how far minimal make up and outfit changes can transform a person.

'The Punk Project' 1997 Nikki.S.Lee

‘The Punk Project’ 1997 Nikki.S.Lee

Of course, Lee’s projects also raise complexities about the validity of the images as self-portraits. Lee isn’t a part of the groups she photographs, rather an intruder, even if she does appear to be completely at ease in each milieu! Therefore, we don’t really get to see the real Nikki. S. Lee, rather just her taking on, very convincingly, other people’s identities. However, the message could be that Lee herself was on the road to discovering who she was by associating with these different people. To this I can relate. Through your teen years to adulthood everyone moves around different crowds and goes through various styles. And so I thought it could be interesting to explore all the crowds and stages I’ve been through, not as many as Lee has encountered but I thought it could be an interesting project to pursue at some point. It also reminded me of the works of Cindy Sherman, who I love so I will take reference to her work as well!

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