The Decline Of The Self Portrait Number One

on February 29, 2016

The self portrait has been a staple of the artistic world ever since men started painting and sculpting. The latter art was difficult as it involved a degree of skill but the former was easy - you just dipped your hand in sloppy clay and slopped it on a rock. You might not have portrayed a lot of you but at least people could count your fingers.

Brush and canvas jobs seem to have been done by every famous and/or obscure artist who ever got up in the morning. Some were brilliant evocations of the times and accurate depictions of the face and figure of the painter. Some were daubs. And some were art that might be described as campaign promises...

The self portrait in early photographic terms was just a mechanical addition to this genre. Photographers with no customers sat down in front of their folding and box cameras and waited out the exposure. When things advanced and sped up, lenses could be put in shutters with mechanical self timers and everyone who could balance a camera on a pile of books could rush around in ten seconds to be captured in front of the machine.

Note the ten seconds - it is the thing that separated the picture from the portrait. In the case of the painted canvas the artist had days, weeks, or months to arrange lighting, sketch in a cartoon, readjust the outlines, and then paint in whatever looked good. If the backdrop in a dingy studio looked bad, a different scene could be limned in. To their credit, most western painters never mounted themselves on horses with cuirassier breastplates and upraised sabres in their self-portraits, though they were generally available to do that for the paying client - town burgomeister or otherwise.

The extended period of time gave the artist looking in the mirror time to arrange their mouths and eyebrows to best advantage. Whether they could capture that on the canvas is another thing, but at least they had time to scrape off the pigment and try again. The selfie-shooter is in a worse position - they have ten seconds to look like Clint Eastwood...and run the risk of looking like Nana Mouskouri eating a bad oyster. Oh, sure, you can press the reset button and try again, but if you are in a group they grow restive and critical after the 15th repeat.

The only hope for it is the camera that swivels the LCD screen up and over itself or around to the side so that it presents the posing party out the front with a view of what the lens sees. You still have only 10 seconds to look handsome and intelligent and some of us would need a lot longer to even spit, but at least you are on the right track.

More on this subject in a further post. Note that Camera Electronic sells cameras from a number of makers that do the flipping screen thing to perfection. No need to be shy - we know what you are buying it for so just ask us to show you the one out of the plain.sealed wrapper...