The Body and its Historical Malleability in Photographic Self-portraiture

Elisavet Kalpaxi

    Research output: Contribution to JournalArticle


    This essay draws on a paper that was presented in the ‘Covering and Exposing, Manipulation and Fragmentation of the Body’ conference at the University for the Creative Arts in 2011. The essay and paper focus on the signification of the body in photographic self-portraiture. Also, they deal with problems of reference that arise with the prioritization of art as a force-field for photography.

    The paper begins by bringing photographic self-portraiture in a relationship to psychoanalytic theories (mainly Freud’s and Lacan’s) on narcissism and the objectification of the body’s image. Self-portraiture can be considered an agent of narcissism, and the objectification of one’s body image as inherently linked to self-representative interests. However, in the first years of photography, self-portraiture was employed to self-reflexively comment on the medium’s projective power, due to indexicality and the image being a direct record of reality, which are also responsible for the medium’s inartistic verisimilitudes. In fact, the genre became particularly popular because it emphasized the artist’s contribution and offered a solution to photography’s ’banality’. Therefore claims of the genre in relation to the artist’s supposed awareness and embodiment of issues linked to identity can be attributed to the metaphorical tie between the use of photography (that implies a withdrawal from the dominant language of art), the psychological withdrawal implied by the act of portraying the artist’s body (self), and social marginalization. Current conditions for viewing, the imposition of meanings and the added meanings these images communicate negate these major claims of the genre. The loss of ambiguity in relation to an image’s potential use and re-definition of its vocabulary necessitates re-constructing meaning regarding representations of bodies, selfhoods and alleged positions of coherence.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)30-33
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2012


    • Photography, self-portraiture, body, self-image, psychoanalysis, narcissism


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