Dr. Ellen K. Rudolph Blog My Thoughts on Self-Portraits _ Part I – Dr. Ellen's Blog

My Thoughts on Self-Portraits _ Part I

Posted on February 6, 2012 By

Question: My name is Amy and I am doing a project at school about self-portraits in photography. I was wondering if you have minute whether you could tell me something about why you take them occasionally and what you find difficult about it, how it makes you feel, that kind of thing. Thanks for your help from a budding photographer.


Dr. Ellen’s Response

Self-portraits, Amy, are a continuing struggle (and preoccupation, in some ways) with artists of all kinds. Many artists do self-portraits, the thinking being that if one can adequately represent SELF then one can perhaps more adequately represent someone else.

It is hardest to look closely at oneself.

Doing a self-portrait is a provocative experience that takes a great deal of thought. How we think we look to others, or how we think we come across to others, can be quite different from what happens in reality. It’s a matter of how we project ourselves and sometimes ego or need or anxiety gets in the way of  — interferes with — that projection. It is considered to be one of the harder experiments, to see if one can capture one’s essence in a way that reflects one’s important aspects that are also seen by others as important.

Given that, however, we must remember that others see us through their own emotional filters, through their own needs and egos and anxieties of the moment. Therefore what they think they see in us may not be a fair representation of us at all although they don’t necessarily know that. We can only do our best to project ourselves as fairly and as openly as possible so as to evoke real and meaningful dialogue with others.

Meaningful dialogue does not happen in a vacuum. It does not happen when we are defensive or feeling hurtful. Dialogue is self-portraiture at its best.

People generally know me for my work with animals, for my travel photography and writings, for my affections for today’s high-tech world of digital cameras and computers; also for my living systems view of the natural world. I am both a psychologist and a photojournalist. My self-portrait with Little Edgar the Squirrel embodies these things, although the systemic aspects are embedded in a more subtle way through the use of a reflection of myself in a mirror.

Dr. Ellen __ self-portrait __ with Little Edgar the Squirrel

– A self-portrait in a mirror-

Little Edgar the Squirrel, btw, was a disabled resident of my household for his entire life, all seven years — he was a part of me, and therefore I felt moved to include him in my self-portrait during that time period as representative of the natural world that I treasure so greatly.

Remember that self is illusive at best; not all parts of the self can be reflected in a single moment but rather over time in flowing movement. The more fragmented or fractured our experience in the world the more disjointed our reflections.

The elements that I hoped to encompass by that single image of mine include critters, cameras, computers and self-reflection. And, in this next case, music.

*A self-portrait at the keyboard of my Schimmel Grand Piano

I try to do self-portraits as a model for other photographers, with the idea that we are what we photograph. What we see is who we are. We see the things we see because of who we are. We cannot be seen as separate from our subjects or as separate from the environment in which we find ourselves.

Photography, in other words,  is just another way of being in the world. I chose it because it is my way of being in the world that feels harmonious, rather than in conflict, with the natural world.

Sometimes we succeed in self-portraiture, sometimes we do not. But the fun is certainly in the trying!