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Top 5 – Self-Portraits in Photography

  • Inspiration
  • 29/01/17

As part of our series of  Top 5 articles we spared no effort to prepared a selection of photographers that used self portraiture in creative and groundbreaking ways:

Top 5 – Self-Portraits in Photography

Francesca Woodman
“It’s very relevant in our times to show her work. Now, we have the selfie, and people are quite obsessed with themselves – as was she. Of course, she used her body as a ‘canvas’. It’s about her, but also not about her.”


Everyone agrees that Woodman’s work is too often evaluated in light of her suicide. She was ignored in life and celebrated in death. The adopted New Yorker, who had started her life in Colorado, had begun to suffer from depression, in part due to the failure of her work to attract attention and a failed relationship.

Woodman reverses the traditional terms of the arrangement: death, like photography, is simply a series of chemical reactions. By using long-exposure techniques, slow shutter speeds and surrealist compositions, Woodman explored her subjects and setups with an intensity of focus and a regard for nuance rarely seen in the self-portraiture of the time – or indeed today.

In the end, her camera captures not the girl but the long moment it looked at her.  Woodman found a way to transcend the basic aestheticism of her own form, questioning broader concepts of the self, gender, body image and identity.

Kimiko Yoshida
“Art is above all the experience of transformation,” explains Yoshida. “All that’s not me, that’s what interests me. To be there where I think I am not, to disappear where I think I am, that is what matters.”


For over a decade, Kimiko Yoshida has created photos of herself in which she wears elaborate costumes that reference a wide range of subjects, from haute couture to Western paintings.

By constantly changing what at first appears to be a self-portrait, Yoshida says, “I am basically saying that there is no such thing as a self-portrait,” she says. “Each of these photographs is actually a ceremony of disappearance. It is not an emphasis of identity, but the opposite – an erasure of identity.”

“Since I fled my homeland to escape the mortifying servitude and humiliating fate of Japanese women, I amplified through my art a feminist stance of protest against contemporary clichés of seduction, voluntary servitude of women, identity and the stereotypes of gender,” Yoshida says.

In speaking of her “monochrome” images, the artist herself is the one who dissolves into the background, the bright colours and bizarre clothing purposely taking centre stage in ways both familiar and uneasy.

Samuel Fosso
The photographer Samuel Fosso set up a studio in Bangui, in the Central African Republic, at the age of thirteen, after fleeing the civil war in Nigeria. “I started taking self-portraits simply to use up spare film; people wanted their photographs the next day, even if the roll wasn’t finished, and I didn’t like waste. The idea was to send some pictures to my mother in Nigeria, to show her I was all right. Then I saw the possibilities. I started trying different costumes, poses, backdrops…. I use a Hasselblad and an auto-timer. I need two or three rehearsals, usually”.


He had never intended to publish these images; it was only in 1994, after French photographer Bernard Deschamps happened upon Fosso’s work, that they reached the international art world. He can be classified somewhere between the early Jürgen Klauke and Cindy Sherman. They are historical documents of an African youth culture that was in full bloom at the time and engaged in a dialogue with international trends.

In the early years, he liked to pose in front of a black backdrop and use props that were at hand. In later, elaborately composed images such as his “African Spirits” series of 2008, Fosso slipped into historical roles like Malcolm X and Angela Davis.
He has won numerous awards and exhibited all around the world.

Cindy Sherman
Cindy Sherman born in USA started out as a painter, but changed to photography. “I was meticulously copying other art and then I realised I could just use a camera and put my time into an idea instead.”


She dresses up for each of her images so much so that we would find it difficult to recognise her on the street if we were to stumble across her. “I think of becoming a different person. I look into a mirror next to the camera.… it’s trance-like. By staring into it I try to become that character through the lens … When I see what I want, my intuition takes over – both in the ‘acting’ and in the editing. Seeing that other person that’s up there, that’s what I want. It’s like magic.”

Her famous series Untitled Film Stills (1977–1980) consists of 69 images and each of the ‘roles’ appears to be played by the same blonde actress. She preferred to work from her home creating sets and works alone rather than the streets. She eventually completed the series in 1980, stopping, she has explained, when she ran out of clichés. In December 1995, the Museum of Modern Art, New York, acquired all sixty-nine black-and-white photographs in Sherman’s Untitled Film Stills series for an estimated $1 million.

Ryan James Caruthers


Caruthers started photography with his Dad’s film camera.  He loved it. He saw it as a positive escape and used himself as a subject as he had no one else to photograph for a couple of reasons, but mainly because he felt out of place in his High school because of his closeted sexuality but also because of his deformity with his body- he had a concaved chest.  His famous series is called Tryouts and it is where he points out the connection between masculinity and athleticism.  The images are compositionally similar to fashion images and he is alone in all the photographs. These are very beautiful, quiet, challenging self- portraits.


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