Anthony Luvera

Self Assisted Portraits

Self Assisted Portraits

Anthony Luvera is an Australian-born photographer, writer and educator based in London. Since 2001 Luvera has collated photographs of people living in London who have experienced being homeless. He also created the series, ‘Residency’ (2006-2008) of homeless people living in Belfast after researching the archive of Belfast Exposed Photography.

Founded in 1983 as a community photography initiative, Belfast Exposed Photography now functions as a gallery for contemporary photography and focuses on commissioning and the publication of new work.  Socially and politically engaged work fuels the Belfast Exposed project and encourages people to use photography to record and understand their environments.  This has formed an archive of half a million images, a vernacular document of the city, seen from a variety of perspectives of those from the community dating back to 1983. The archive is available to view online and as a physical archive.

The archive, images of relentless documentation of life in Belfast is fascinating to view. The ability to look through images both old and new, of the city’s struggles, mishaps, people and celebrations is consuming.  I can understand how Luvera wanted to add to the project by focusing on the homeless as they too make up the community.

What gives Luvera’s images that edge is the way in which he creates them. Breaking the traditional boundaries and conforms of photographer and subject when creating portraits, Luvera makes the experience and final image a collaborative one. The initial idea behind the photographic project was to give the homeless subjects complete control over the images, providing only the equipment in order for them to do so. “I explained, I was going to collate an archive of images made by homeless and ex-homeless people, and that if you wanted to get involved you could come and see me in various places across London, to collect cameras to take away and photograph whatever you liked” This happened and formed an archive of images, remarkable and untainted by the photographer, all created by the homeless and ex homeless. They would all meet up and talk about the images during weekly sessions.

However, the reality of publically exhibiting the images from the archive necessitated and so Luvera wanted to create new images, representing those who created the archive, as creators, “I give careful consideration about the importance of recognizing the individual creators of the images. I did not want to simply put out an unconnected presentation of images attributed to ‘homelessness’.  I began to think about how to create representations of the contributors to the archive, in a way that would react against the process of a traditional portrait making exercise”. With this idea in mind Luvera began to experiment with technical set ups and negotiations during photographic transactions with Phil Robinson.

Self Assisted Portraits

Self Assisted Portraits

After the experimentations Luvera began the series, ‘Self Assisted Portraits’. The process was as follows. Luvera would meet with the participant in their chosen location and would teach them how to use the photographic equipment. Once the participant was comfortable with using the equipment independently, they would then use the cable shutter release in order to create the portrait whilst Luvera would light the area. “With each participant this process is repeated on at least four separate meetings over six to eight weeks.  To build the participant’s technical knowledge and, importantly, to build their confidence in taking the lead in the portrait making. The final image is edited with the participant and the use of the Assisted Self-Portrait is always with their consent”

Self Assisted Portraits

Self Assisted Portraits

It’s quite impressive how much time and consideration Luvera put into the “Self Assisted Portraits”. Providing the subject, or ‘participant’ as Luvera states, with the required knowledge and experience to create portraits, transforms them into that of a photographer. It’s a really interesting idea and I wouldn’t mind trying something similar with this week’s Picbod ‘Negotiation Task’ (photographing a stranger).

Before researching into the series, I thought the images were quite, well regular. However, now I know the story and processes behind the images, I have a more informed and appreciative reading of them. The images offer something raw and special. The participant is in complete control, representing themselves in a location and look they want to be seen in. The images ordinariness and simplicity is what makes them more interesting. The sensitive, hushed up theme of homelessness isn’t an issue, we see the subjects as much more than that, human and real. I really like the idea behind the series and am looking forward to listening to Luvera speaking next Thursday!


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