Menu Close

Top 5 – Self-Portraits

  • Inspiration
  • 23/07/17

1. Jen Davis


Jen Davis is an American photographer. She has been working on a series of powerful Self Portraits for the past fourteen years. It began by her looking at her own body image and the idea of beauty including the insecurities that she has of herself. The first picture we see of her series Eleven years (on her website) is Davis on the beach covered up while her friends are in skimpier swimwear. This image made her realize that she must step In front of the camera. The rest of the series uses lots of natural light, beautiful, raw and confident self portraits. She is showing such strength to really immerse herself. She comments: it is a problem that she makes herself vulnerable for the camera, where she really wants to make herself vulnerable for another person. She took images posing with male models fantasizing what a relationship would be like questioning could anyone fancy her?

After the 11years series was finished she looked at the images as a whole and she realized that she nor her body had changed in that amount of time. She decided to do something about losing weight. Her work is exploring both men and women as a subject and investigates the physical and psychological relationship with the camera.

Davis 1Davis 2

2. Claude Cahun

‘Masculine? Feminine? But it depends on the situation. Neuter is the only gender that always suits me’ (Claude Cahun).

Claude Cahun is a pseudo name for Lucy Schwob, a surrealist writer and photographer in the 1930’s – her images only being celebrated since the 1980’s. A woman who Andre Breton described as  “one of the most curious spirits of our time” and who was a precursor to the next wave of female artist and photographers such as Cindy Sherman and Gillian Wearing.

With the Nazi invasion in 1940’s, Cahun along with her partner channeled their creativity towards Resistance that ended up her being imprisoned for a year- initially she was sentenced to death. In her clever photographs she reimagines herself in different guises. She never settles on a single identity but is a number of different characters.

Cahun 2Cahun 1

3. Nan Goldin

Two black eyes, dark mint background, black curly hair and jumper” – this is a self portrait by Nan Goldin. Taken one month after being physically attacked by her then partner Brian. In 1984, Brian used his strength as a weapon, beating Goldin to the point that her eye nearly detached from its socket. This was the worst period of abuse. Goldin stitched her own eye back up and took the raw self-portrait, “Nan one month after being battered”. It’s a difficult but real image. She stares straight into the camera and there is strength but in equal measures such pain.

She was never formally trained in photography. Her photography is a success living IN her story and hailed as one of the best. She photographed her friends, she photographed the drug scene, she photographed her life. She was interested in the body, gender and all that is around it.

She never understood the language of her images or why she took them but that never stopped them being so powerful. Now she can discuss them. After her stint in Rehab- light was introduced into her images.

In 2014, Golding showcased a series of never before seen self-portraits in an exhibition at SF Fraenkal Gallery. It was called Nine Self Portraits.

nan-goldin 1

4. Lee Friedlander

Lee Friedlander Puts Your Selfies to Shame

“At first, my presence in my photos was fascinating and disturbing. But as time passed and I was more a part of other ideas in my photos, I was able to add a giggle to those feelings.”- Lee Friedlander.

Friedlander’s work provides some of the first and best examples of what has become a widespread approach to photography. His self-portraits are fascinating. He appears in his images as a well-formed shadow, or reflecting in mirrors or windows using light and space in an extraordinary way. As time passes he seems to become more playful. Placing himself so he appears in the image as a shadow sitting in a chair, or mirroring people in front of him on the street but as a carved out with very hard shadows . These images give us unique perspective and a way of learning more about his personality.

Friedlander 2Friedlander 1

5. Phillip Toledano

The many lives of Phillip Toledano

In this self-portrait project, Toledano is trying to envisage all the possible ways his life could end up in the next 40/50 years.

His parents, Auntie, Uncle died within a 3 year period, including his older sister dying at 8 years of age leaving him feeling alone and comments “life is so full of right angles”.

How does he research the future?

He sought advice from many Psychics and got a DNA testing. He employed a makeup designer to create all these different characters on him during a three year period.

He’s an original thinker and the projects are about him.

Some examples of the characters that he immersed himself in are:

A stroke victim,

an old man in a wheelchair,

an overweight office man,

a handcuffed business man by the FBI,

a drunk man.

They are all negative emotions relating to his fears.

Toledano 1Toledano 2