Good painters, it's said, look inward, often relying on a private emotional response, some right-brain trigger, to inform their art. Skilled photographers, it could be argued, are their outward-looking, left-brained counterparts, artists who consider rationality, chemistry, mathematics and motor-driven mechanisms — so much analytical information — and filter it all through a single (artful) eye.
For this issue, Metro Times tapped a bunch of Detroit's professional photographers to submit a self-portrait and tell us something revealing about their shot. In the next few pages you'll see how photojournalists, abstracters, fashion and commercial photogs, and contemporary artists see themselves through digital reproductions and scanned film shots. Consider Shakespeare's line, "Beauty is bought by judgment of the eye." How does it apply to the form of the self-portrait?
This photo is a long exposure (time lapse) of me standing in the middle of Woodward on a Saturday night, looking toward the city. This is a shot I've always wanted to take, as I have always been enamored with long exposures at night. Some of my first recreational photographs were 2-, 5- or even 10-minute exposures of different buildings in the city.
If this photo could talk, it would say that I'm a Detroiter. I've lived here for 10 years (in fact, my home is in this actual photograph), and I raised my two girls here. No matter how it changes, no matter how many people come and go, I'll always be here ... it's in my soul. Other than some curves and levels, I didn't do much to this shot. To make it work, you just have to take it at the right time.
This portrait is an offshoot of a larger project that allows me to marry my professional editing skills with my own creative concepts. Here, I'm represented as a doll, a bizarre caricature of myself. The doll is the physical embodiment of an inner state while referencing the formal painted portrait. This image was created in my living room using studio lights and a digital camera. I used white clay to create a crackled texture on my face. Yes, lots of Photoshop went into this image (obviously). I find inspiration in contemporary pop surrealists, a crazy ex, my love of textures and commercial fashion photography experience. In my professional life, the type of images which are consistently chosen for publication have left me questioning the conflict between creating a beautiful image and factually documenting a subject in an unaltered fashion. In my personal projects, my digitally manipulated portraits usually feature young, attractive women amplifying the parameters defining beauty in the fashion, beauty and entertainment industries. I'm very interested in the ramifications of digital technology on society's perception of how we go about our everyday lives, specifically how we are supposed to look and act.
Two weeks before I left Detroit for New York, I went into northern Michigan with my family to our cabin. I had been shooting a ton of Polaroids in the couple months leading up to my move, as the fact that the Polaroids were/are running out felt connected to the fact that my time in the city was running out. Every shot I took felt so meaningful and important. I had my Polaroid with me on this up-North trip, and when I was on the beach of Lake Huron for the sunset. I saw my shadow on the beach, and, as cheesy as it sounds, the whole moment felt incredibly symbolic. I shot this, and I have it out at my new place in New York. I can't wait until the day I move back to Michigan. I just have no idea when that will happen.
This self-portrait is of my faerie alter ego Mojo Galaxy. It is never easy to capture the image of an alter ego, especially not a flighty faerie. I attached my camera to a tripod and strobe lighting, turned on some jazz music, and put out a six-pack of Michigan-made beer for bait. In a few quick flashes, the beer and Mojo Galaxy were gone, and I was pleased with the resulting images. Very little digital manipulation was required to convey the beautiful darkness and sexy contrast typical to my wacky muse. Don't be fooled: She appears serious, but is usually sarcastic and loves to play.
Photographers are, for the most part, enigmatic creatures. So when asked to showcase a self-portrait, it can often be a daunting task. What we see is who we are. Typically, the only interesting thing about photographers are their eyes, their index fingers, their intuition, and their implied presence. My method of control with this self-portrait was to capture myself, create models of those images and, once again, become the person behind the camera. The viewer becomes the viewed becomes the viewer becomes the viewed, and so on.
So, how can one maintain anonymity when the camera is turned on you? Shrink yourself down into two-dimensional figures and hide in the grass. ...
I've never had any training or schooling in photography, so the very few self-portraits that I have taken tend to reflect the style of all my other pictures. These tend to be quick, mobile shots where composition, framing, lighting, exposure, etc. are heavily secondary to the moment that the image is taken. This self-portrait was taken at an ATM machine in the Public Market in Seattle, Wash., while waiting for the machine to dispense a bit of cash with the camera positioned just below my tie knot. The mirror is anchored on the ATM so you can look forward while at the same time you can see behind you. There was good natural light and the convex shape of the mirror gave just the right amount of distortion to take a self-portrait that isn't quite a mirror image of the subject, yet close enough.
"Eighth Birthday" is a piece culled from the 2005 series of installations entitled "Passages." The works were meditations on the family experience in the American suburbs and the nostalgia of looking back at time passed. "Eighth Birthday" is a somber reflection on the post-celebratory realization of the passage of time. The balloons have deflated and confetti lies like dust that has settled. All that is left is the photographic document to be filed away in family history.
Here I am, in my hotel room bathtub — on assignment doing a Porsche shoot in Atlanta. The amenities might look luxurious, but it was more like a fancy prison. I've probably never been more stressed-out in my life. Without sounding too much like a little bitch, let me describe my situation: I was trapped in Atlanta for two weeks working crazy hours, while back home my son was overdue and my dad was about to have brain surgery. I think the photo hints at my appreciation for the corporate world and the truth behind small talk.
Sometime in the middle of the night between coughing spells, I set the self-timer and hung the camera from atop the bathroom door. Back then I was just getting into digital photography and using a Canon EOS Digital Rebel XT. Lens: Canon 10-22 mm wide open with no flash. Later in the week I went back and shot the tub filling with water and edited the two together with a yucky green filter that matched my lung phlegm.
As an artist, I am constantly observing the world around me. I recognize that it takes as much creativity to capture an image as it does to create one. This is what attracted me to documentary-style photography. I am driven to capture people and events, with a particular emphasis on nightlife and music subcultures. I believe in photography as a means of storytelling, capturing honest moments that may otherwise go unnoticed.
Over the years, I've drawn inspiration from Nan Goldin and Glen E. Friedman, whose work captured the culture surrounding the post-punk, new wave music scene of the '70s and '80s. I've always admired their ability to gain a subject's trust in portraying their worlds. What keeps me motivated? Diane Arbus once said, "I really believe there are things nobody would see if I didn't photograph them."
"self, por tu, raid"
Where was now?
It surely is not then,
But it all feels the same.
Hiding from nothing
I'm sure, I just don't remember
dreams that paint reality,
that stain regular emotion
with humid breath and reaction
How could I be born knowing this?
Where did I love the directions?
A healthy chase
A way from being
Home in motion, on the way
Somewhere, some feeling, stays
Be there, facing demons.
Be there, alive.
This is what we're made of.
Energy, without a name.
Not survivors, and not the game.
and it comes from within.
From a place I have never been
And will not return from once I am there.
It is about feeling.
There is a vibration
in the heart of hearts,
in the womb of an idea;
a pulsation that leads down a path
that flows through a vein,
that ends nowhere.
Second guess, a clock without hands.
Blind faith, the conspiring universe.
Bite my tongue, and discuss the blood
let the animal cease to evolve
Like many photographers, I have a lot of self-portraits from many periods of my adult life — most of them deadly serious. I made this one to accompany some music I've been working on recently. We have a bunch of Day of the Dead stuff, and my wife laughingly bought me this one because she said it looked like me. I used a silver Sharpie to add in the gray hair for added authenticity. As I've spent the last few years recovering from spinal fusion surgery, I've begun to notice how odd and comical it is that my home is filled with skeletons. I use different technologies as they suit my ends, (hell, I shot this with a digital camera), but I don't believe in abandoning old ones just because Best Buy tells you to. I find you never get something without trading something else away. What can I say? I love cassettes and the sound of analog tape! Plus, I often tell people that part of my job description as an artist is to not do what everybody else is doing.
S. Kay Young
Every year, my beloved friends KT, Joe and I go up North — Rose City. Many stops on the way — back roads — traditions we have held since our fleeting youth. My seat is always in the back (not the navigator, KT is brilliant with directions — not I). My camera comes out of the case when we hit the road and does not go back in until we are home.
Our trips are well-documented — hundreds of shots for a long weekend. The image was taken this summer, the warm sun and wind as inspiration. Hands tell stories. Adornments are a part of my story. Two of the rings came from my father to my mother in World War II from the Philippines. The silver ring was made from a smashed nickel stamped with the date. My parents' wedding rings — miss them so — past lover — all bout the love — my portrait. Shot with a Fuji S3, Nikkor 28-70 F2.8 AF-S ED silent wave motor lens, processed in Photoshop CS4.
This is a side of me not many people get to see too often. I love wearing classy vintage suits and making a statement with them. They're always a good conversation-starter, if nothing else. I used the shadows to play into the fact that I like to be hidden from the spotlight and stay on the other side of lens. Influences for the shot were to make it very classy and use a lot of shadows to get the mood of a GQ-style photograph. The shot was done in my basement against a concrete wall, with three lights total. The only manipulation done was a slight color correction and sharpening just to enhance the overall mood.
These images were produced for a show at the 4731 Gallery and at the Cass Cafe. Each photograph is a 40-by-60-inch mural, and they were inspired by the Hubble telescope photographs, microscopic photographs of cells and aerial satellite shots during the Iraq war. They are meant to confront the viewer with seeing something that they are very familiar with and challenging the reality, evoking a different reaction when discovering the banality of the underlying image. Many of my images use intense color and contrast and camera angle and usually have a single point focus. This creates a very powerful environment for the subject, which I juxtapose with the softness and vulnerability of the subject itself, either through emotion or through focus and depth of field. The qualities and contrasts of the power and intensity of the photograph belie the emotion or sentiment of the actual image. I strive to achieve a balance of impact with a tenderness of emotional attachment for the viewer. I look for the photographs to leap out and yet continue to hold interest in the subtleties of each image. At first glance, they are dynamic and strong, but, after viewing, they continue to hold the viewer by the lesser environmental effects and content. I believe photography, if wielded with the right combination of technique and expression, can alter the perception of the environs being showcased.
Here's a funny self-portrait I did last February 2008, titled "I'm not dead, only in a coma — The 28 days of February." Winter is always the worst for me. I thought by taking a picture of myself every day, at the same time, it would work as some kind of self-help mechanism. It didn't.
I shot this image recently as a means of giving face to the uncertainty I feel presently. Detroit has always felt like a place in flux to me — having been here only a little over two years — but now more than ever. As the newness wears off and I am forced with making decisions, both personal and career-based, I find myself unmoored. Not sure where my future life in Detroit lies, I'm in one of Detroit's many hidden corners, caught unaware, in thought, unsure. The image was taken on an overcast day with one strobe (reflector, no diffusion) two-thirds of a stop above ambient. The image was altered in Photoshop (curves, desaturated), but no structural manipulation occurred. I drew no direct inspiration for the photo, although Cindy Sherman's Untitled Film Stills have always influenced my self-portraiture.
Jacob Malachi Yeung
This self-portrait exhibits an intimate surrender to the creative process. When I step in front of the lens, I become this ultimate entanglement of subject and author. Seconds before shutter release, time appears to slow. I transform into this ultra-sentient being, completely aware of every gesture of the body and emotion within. Taken and printed at Oakland Community College in 2006, this photograph entitled "Tomes" is an ode to the undying art of quiet contemplation, esoteric philosophy and spiritual inception. Inspired by the otherworldly manifestations of self-sought mysticism, I deployed the alternate darkroom technique of "print solarization" to further enhance the ethereal and signature qualities of the image. For me, photography and spirituality share similar qualities, both requiring intimate approach and complete submission toward the tender musings of the holy ephemeral.
Michelle Matiyow & Lians
My partner, Lians, and I are very different photographers, from our personal tastes to our techniques and strengths. Our style is what happens when two diverse personalities converge; it is a balance of order and chaos, much like Lians and myself. On our best days, shooting as a team is like a well-choreographed dance. We pass the camera between us rhythmically. While I am shooting, Lians is my eyes and vice versa. Needless to say, this process is not easy to replicate for a self-portrait. By using a photo booth to shoot our picture (thank you W.A.B.), we were able to step outside our typical process to look in at ourselves. A simple photograph from a machine by itself does not really tell our story; this is why we chose to add color and texture to our self-portrait. That is what we are — layers: two distinct elements that come together to create a whole. lmstudios.com
I have always felt being a photographer is the ability to see things differently, and that photography is the tool with which we tell a story. Whether it is our own story or someone else's, photography has the power to change the world, visually capture a moment in our lives forever, and shed light on the world's many hidden mysteries. It is our responsibility and privilege to wake up each day with a fresh set of eyes, to start over, to relearn, to be as fascinated with the world around us as children. This is a self-portrait, looking through a magnifying glass analyzing the world that surrounds me. Looking for beauty, purpose, and the never-ending search to better myself. This was taken in my Studio space in the Russell Industrial Center, Detroit, on a Canon 5D Mark II, 24mm focal length, 15-second exposure, f/16, ISO: 160.
I am an explorer. Often I find myself traveling into an open field blanketed by the sun. It is there I find myself again and again, in spaces such as the one in the photograph. There is a sense of connection to myself and my surroundings that is pure and true. To feel the earth on my feet and a life that extends in the color yellow for miles is something I cannot ignore and makes me feel alive.
My mission in life is to make a difference in the world through the lens of my camera. My passion: to document historical events, icons, living legends, celebrities and children throughout the world. I see things and know when just the right moment is to capture that image forever. Regarding the self-portrait, this is the "new me" and my first self-portrait. My trademark is black — after having double knee replacement surgery in March of this year there is a new me. I embrace some colors now.
The world I see through the lens is a perpetual movie still. I trace the majority of my influence to cinema and the dreamlike reality that film evokes. In my work, I try to incorporate subtle references that make room for open narratives among the audience. Although the details of this photograph have been staged to embody a certain feeling, it's almost as though I've captured the moment when the camera is forgotten — a true moment. I tried to express my personality by encapsulating my helplessness and dependence of being viewed through the lens as opposed to being behind it, where I feel as though my visions can flourish.
I find portraits to be some of the most engaging of all artwork. This photo, "Modifiers #5," is one of a series of self-portraits I created using handmade tools constructed out of porcelain. The tools were used to help me make facial expressions. I liked the absurdity of using a tool to aid someone to express him or herself. I also used porcelain slip to accentuate my features. I find this photo captures the fake smile we often put on when we are asked to "smile" when being photographed; I find we often mask the true feeling within.
This photograph doesn't exist. Or more accurately, no one, including myself, can prove it was taken, which is a completely different statement altogether, I understand. But if it wasn't taken how is it here? Is it here? You see, like many people, I don't really like having my picture taken. I was asked to submit a self-portrait, but photo booths (which are my favorite machines in the world) notwithstanding, I find the idea to be a tad unsettling. So I blindfolded myself. The idea being that I wouldn't have to bear witness to the image capturing process that I had so selfishly made others endure. But without witness to the event, how can I undoubtedly prove it happened? This is not to reference the theory that some young children use while trying to hide from someone by covering their eyes. Employing the irrefutable logic that, if they can't see their seeker, their seeker will no doubt be unable to see them. I am clearly not above this train of thought, but my dilemma has more to do with the equally childish problem of the tree falling in the woods with no one to hear its sound (or lack thereof). For pragmatic reasons, more than anything, I am sure that most people conduct their lives in such a way as to presume, when happening upon a fallen tree, that it did make a sound. And therefore would probably conclude that if I set up my camera, triggered the self-timer, and sat in front of the lens wearing a blindfold, that the subsequent image produced by the camera was more than likely caused by my actions, or "taken by me," despite the fact that no one, including myself saw it happen. To demand that all our information come only from personal experience is a slippery slope that would render even the most common of daily errands next to impossible. But this isn't running up to the party store for a nice bottle of red we're talking about here, people. This is goddamn art, and should be able to endure a more rigorous scrutiny. Moreover, the image came from a digital camera. Do any of the pictures that come from those things have any basis in reality? Digital manipulation being what it is, I contest it not so cynical a position to approach any and all computer-generated pictures with a healthy suspicion. To this day digital photographs are often inadmissible in courts as evidence. They don't prove anything. So here it is: The picture that wasn't taken — the sound without the tree. All you have is this photo. You have no idea how it got here, and no "artist's statement" can tell you anything about it.
Balance of light, and just out-of-balance light, make my skin tingle. Ordinary situations can be manipulated into extraordinary landscapes with the proper use of balancing light. And this, to me, is why photography is an amazing creature. Using the camera as a tool to extract glimmers and shimmers, to make the still come alive, and the mundane beautiful, has proven to be quite an exploration since around 12 years old. I have far from mastered it, but that's what keeps me looking.
I don't think very consciously about self-portraiture. While working through ideas in front of a staged set, I happen to be the figure close at hand. Knowing what I intend for the photograph, I become a capable prop. Occasionally, I plan photographs specifically for a certain character, real or invented. This image depicts Ariadne, a character from classical mythology. According to the myth, Ariadne falls in love with Theseus and gives him a length of string, which helps him to find his way around the labyrinth and kill the Minotaur. Theseus accomplishes this impossible task. Taking Ariadne with him, he sails to the island of Naxos where she falls asleep on shore and he abandons her there.
Apart from a visual interpretation of the story, this photograph illustrates exhaustion and transformation. Hand-drawn charcoal lines mimic routes across the Atlantic. The layers of tulle on the dress become an expanse of water. The process of photographing myself within a staged environment begins as a private act, a contradiction that interests me as the work reaches an audience and becomes performative. I scan and print large-format negatives from an early 20th century view camera without digital manipulation.
The idea behind this photograph is to visualize the vulnerability of people once they are stripped from their closest protective layer, their clothing. Shooting this photograph and my other self-portraits is rarely planned. I have a feeling or intuition that, once I see the location, convert into a still photograph. Here, especially, I liked that the person who lived here took the time to cover the glass on the door to make this apartment more personal. The elements have now started to strip this warmth once present, the new tenants the pigeons have completely taken over. Before I decided to walk barefoot over inches of pigeon droppings and glass shards to sit inside the armoire, I dared to turn around one of the drawers on the right. I discovered a bird skeleton and a couple of abandoned eggs. It seems that even the birds have abandoned this place now. This kind of situation or mood is what I am looking for to get creative. This shoot was taken at my favorite place, an abandoned (former) luxury hotel then converted into apartments, and left derelict for more than 20 years now.
I took this photo while in L.A. on a trip to accept an international photography award. Andy Warhol has a strong influence on the image. His use of color and strong simple images that are layered with meaning has been influencing me for years. The shoot was on Venice beach in L.A., a place that is home to a lot of sideshow-type acts and homeless people. Here many people are happy to be themselves. Which ranges from a 13-foot walking tree to people making a living blowing bubbles. This picture captures how I really felt this week, a person that is confident of who they are. I like my portraits to grab the viewer and make them feel something. I would rather have a person feel something and hate my picture than for them to brush it off as, "Oh, that's nice." The shoot involved a huge soft box and it attracted a bunch of people who were taking pictures of the shoot. It was shot close, at a wide angle, and leads a viewer to an intimate second of eye contact. The image has very slight manipulation. I kept it this way to go with the theme of confidence.
The boundaries of the "self" can only be defined by observation of an already knowing self. Only with the company and grace of an equal and opposite presence can the aspects of one's true self be known, defined, and appreciated. This image is pulled the "Yellow dress" series done in 2005, featuring a series of portraits taken in and throughout Maybury State Park. I recently came across the image, and felt it strongly represented aspects of my current, ever-evolving nature of self. The image was shot with 35mm film, with no digital manipulation applied.
AA Records is an art and music label run by Nate Young and I. This is the mirror lathe-cut 7-inch record featuring music by Ex-Cocaine. The Lathe Cut Series is comprised of editions of 7-inch-square hand-cut records that are sculptural objects with audio and visual content. The recording lathe etches the grooves as the song plays; the grooves are seemingly "flat" but closer inspection reveals their depth and width. The lathe records are two-dimensional images and three-dimensional objects that physically represent sound.
This was not our first attempt at varying the materials used for lathes, but, to our knowledge, the first recording on mirror. Our use of the square as a recurring format is intentional. It offers a symmetry that frames the circle of grooves and creates a natural balance, which is very important to us. The circle within the square is an archetypal structure in geometric abstraction. But the square also represents the object and can push a two-dimensional shape into question. It is neither portrait nor landscape, but possibly an item not meant to hang on a wall.Travis R. Wright's self-portrait was too sexy for print. Send comments to [email protected]