Is this who I am?



“The portrait-photograph is a closed field of forces.
Four image-repertoires intersect here, oppose and distort each other. In front of the lens, I am at the same time: the one I think I am, the one I want others to think I am, the one the photographer thinks I am, and the one he makes use of to exhibit his art.
In other words, a strange action: I do not stop imitating myself, and because of this, each time I am (or let myself be) photographed, I invariably suffer from a sensation of inauthenticity, sometimes of imposture (comparable to certain nightmares)” (Barthes 13).


When I am being photographed, I try to convey a certain image of myself. In almost all cases I want a portrait of myself to be as flattering as possible. Then again, in certain “fun” pictures, it is alright for me to look stupid or unattractive or otherwise imperfect. Typically, I do not have much influence on how the photograph turns out – I may strike a pose or put on a smile, but nevertheless I am in the hands of the photographers, not only while they are taking the picture but afterwards, too, when they decide which photograph they will eventually choose to keep and show to me or possibly display for other people to see. The distribution of powers is fairly clear and fixed.

In a self-portrait, this “closed field of forces” is stirred up. Here, the photographer and the photographed (or the Operator and the Spectrum, in Barthes’s terms) merge and become one and the same. When I take pictures of myself, I still have a certain idea of who I am and who I want others to think I am. But the photographer, this factor of uncertainty, this stranger, is not a threat to my self-portrayal anymore. Now I can decide what I want others to see. I can delete pictures that I do not like because they do not show me in the way I want others to see me, and I can choose the picture that comes closest to what I want the self-portrait look like – I can even choose “ugly” pictures and see something in them that I probably would not see if they had been taken by someone else.

If I get to both take and choose the picture of myself that I wish to exhibit, will this photograph perfectly capture “the one I think I am” and “the one I want others to think I am,” without the distortion that results from the intervention of a second person involved in the process? Does this total control over the process mean that the outcome is more or less authentic?


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