Self Portrait from the Outside



2 minutes reading

The photographic self-portrait offers a varying degree of knowledge about the artist. If there are additional elements present in the photograph -- architecture, dress, other subjects -- they often orbit around the artist's image and lend a richer texture to the artist's own presentation and narrative. The short life and work of Francesca Woodman, a photographer who worked in Italy, Providence and New York in 1970's and early 1980's, is an ideal representation of environment and self-portrait becoming one. Her experiments with style, her engagement with art history (in particular Surrealism), and her youth are well defined in her photography.

Woodman's suicide at age twenty-two is perhaps yet another context to her self-portraiture; an eerie footnote or shadow side of her work that stands outside of the frame. Woodman's legacy is linked in part to her self-conscious and process-oriented growth as a young female artist. The world inside the frame becomes multi-dimensional both in terms of mechanics and narrative.

Yet, what occurs when the self-portrait, especially the female self-portrait, is merged with or created by the perceptions of others?

In a way quite opposite to Woodman, the multi-media and photographic work of the young Brooklyn-based artist Katarina Riesing is buoyant, funny and, at times, deeply critical. Nevertheless, her engagement with surrounding ephemera, the body, and memory presents a compelling, modern-day variation on the self-portrait of a young artist. From her direct family to complete strangers, Riesing lets others participate in the creation of her self-portraits. Allowing an external participant to define and describe her appearance, the self-portrait is torn apart and re-arranged. 

In Riesing's work Self Portrait (Mom and Dad), the viewer can hear the artist's parents describe their child's face from memory while, on screen, Riesing mouths their responses and gestures in a way that accentuates and dramatises the centrality of the artist. The audio descriptions bring to the fore a formalized way of seeing and representing that is perhaps more submerged in Woodman’s images.

In Woodman’s monograph, Corey Keller writes, "Not only is she both subject and author in her works, but she intentionally alludes to the representation of self within pictures, particularly through her use of mirrors and portraits, while simultaneously suggesting a disjunction between the self and its identity, and between the body and the self." Just as Woodman does this, Katarina Riesing introduces new multi-media and sensory elements to suggest similar concepts, and places her own image at the forefront of her work in a way that is acutely representative of a contemporary woman/artist.