Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Reflections and Snapshots

 A regular feature of What I Wore post discussions, particularly among we Women of a Certain Age, is the discomfort we feel in taking, posing for, and posting photos of ourselves. Not only do we confront our own unhappiness with the reality of our looks, but even if we feel good about how we look, how we've styled our Outfits Of The Day (OOTD), we then feel awkward about our temerity in broadcasting it to the world.
 I've written before about those social expectations that deemed it unwomanly to take up public space. A long tradition has women posed by artists for (primarily) male viewing pleasure, although this tradition has increasingly been challenged over the past century or two.
 I've also written about my own tiny part in challenging the tradition by commissioning an artist friend to paint my nude portrait as a gift for my husband
 Nonetheless, I continue to feel utterly squeamish, foolishly narcissistic as I play with mirror and camera. Yet I'm fascinated with my representation, fascinated by my aging face, fascinated by all those likenesses and experiences I trace in it. And much as I enjoy the more polished examples of Style writ large posted on various blogs regularly, and collectively seen on sites such as Patti's wonderful Visible Monday, I'm perhaps even more interested in seeing our vulnerabilities, our playful self-posings. I love, for example, this post by Mardel, her intelligent honesty as present as her obvious wit. I've just met (thanks to Terri for the tip) the extravagantly sartorial Melanie  whose post on One Face Six Ways brilliantly exemplifies self-portrait play.
Much as I'm interested in clothing, fashion, and style for their own sake, I'm keen to see examples in which we bloggers tweak the OOTD genre for our own purposes, as an exploration and an expression of our selves. Rumpled pants and all.

Thoughts?

19 comments:

  1. I think you're gorgeous! That second photo is just beautiful. But I do understand your feelings of narcissism. I feel that way when I post photos. Mind you, I love seeing my blog friends present themselves creatively. So I have to hope that others feel the same way about seeing me :-)

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  2. That second photo, the close-up of your face, is just wonderful. I like the expression of questioning regard. Melanie has brought to my attention the work of artist/photographer Cindy Sherman. DH has been plagued for several days with requests to go see her show, which will travel around the states during 2012. Cindy Sherman's work captures what I think we are all attempting with our blogs.

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  3. I enjoy your very thoughtful posts. I read some posts about the process of having your self-portrait painted and your takes on shows at the VAG. Fiona Tan with her huge video piece about aging/time/memory was a favourite. And the Paris works on the "Modern Woman," although they were representative of the times, as you've said and I kept telling myself, it still pissed me off how there were no male nudes in there. It was the modern woman strictly through male eyes.

    There is a quote from Rauschenberg I love: "You have to have the time to feel sorry for yourself if you're going to be a good abstract expressionist." So there is an absence of females maybe women are too darned busy! Discuss. (I feel like a teacher!)

    Cindy Sherman is cool in her study of female representation through her photographic self-portraits, although she is has been ensconced in the artworld stratosphere and been doing similar work for so long now, I wonder if she still feels the critical edge in her work. So many questions...!

    Always food for thought over here. I'm glad I found you. (Thanks, Terri, from me too!) And thanks to you for the mention here. I am just beginning this exploration in photography. It's too weird! Ha! Basically, I feel like I'm playing dress-up. But it's REAL now.

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  4. Yes, your opening paragraph captures it exactly, the discomfort, the temerity. It always seems to me that once I take photos somehow the simple act of getting dressed gets transformed into putting on an "outfit" even though the results of putting on clothing is always an outfit and what we wear always represents some statement of ourselves and what we want the world to see or not see, even when we refuse to acknowledge our own participation in this ritual.

    But then perhaps it is the acknowledgement that makes us uncomfortable, or brazenly putting ourselves forth, imperfections and all. And yet people see us every day. Why this discomfort with the photo (lord knows how I hate photographs)? And how can we say we treasure individuality and character in a face and despair about women who destroy themselves in their pursuit of physical perfection without celebrating the very imperfections and reality to which we daily lay claim, wrinkles and all.

    Oops, long and wordy.

    All of these photos are beautiful and full of intelligence, but that second photo, especially, glows.

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  5. Am thinking. Will be back.

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  6. I along with many women our age seem to have trouble viewing myself in photos. Do you think it has anything with our generation and the way we were raised? I look at my 2 daughters (ages 19 & 16) and they (& their friends) love to have their pictures taken (they are even experts at taking their own photos!). I know I tried to raise them with as much self confidence and esteem that I could and I wonder if this is part of that result? Or are they so comfortable with technology (cell phones with cameras, skyping etc) that they are not as uncomfortable as we are?
    Also enjoy seeing everyone else's pics (especially the WIW) so maybe have to stop being so self critical! Love the 2nd pic btw, very unguarded!!

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    1. I do notice a big difference in my daughters'attitude to photos, and yes, they seem to know how to pose to advantage. I hope it might have something to do with us raising them for self-esteem, etc., and I would guess you're also right that their growing up alongside such technology makes a difference as well.

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  7. I love the second photo of you, too, as well as your thought-provoking comments. The blog photos are a bit of a struggle for me because, even though I am content with what I see in the mirror, I often don't like the photos. (I have to take MANY pictures to find one that I'll post -- and even then, I am not crazy about most of them). I'm not sure what's different about the photos as compared to the mirror (maybe I control my expression in the mirror,or something).

    While I used to worry that posting photos of myself was narcissistic, I've recently decided that I need to do it, if only to become more accepting of what I see.

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    1. Anne, your last sentence gets exactly at what keeps me posting -- I want to get to the point where I look at photos of myself and just say "Yep, that's me and that's okay." I think I'm getting closer . . .

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  8. Those first three photos are just so great!

    In a number of medieval Italian cities and towns women were forbidden to enter the town hall or to even be on the steps at public plazas because city governments tried to associate public space entirely with the masculine. It's really interesting to me that so much of the fashion advice given to women is still directed toward making them seem smaller, making them be minimized in the public space. Perhaps this is why I secretly love shoulder pads and publicly love bright colors. I like feeling like I am present and visible in public.

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    1. Ah, thanks for your historian's perspective! This is the kind of cultural background that really makes me feel that it's worth claiming public space, even in small ways like posting our photos on blogs. Present and visible, as you say (and I have a secret yen for shoulder pads as well!)

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  9. Not sure why the individual Reply feature doesn't work from this computer; please excuse the bulk approach!
    Kristin: Thanks for the encouragement. It's the "why" of that self-accusation of narcissism that troubles and intrigues me, the way it's got such a strong self-censoring influence.
    Melanie: You're playing productive dress-up and I find it inspiring as well as provocative. Thank you! Yes, I do sometimes wonder how much Sherman and others whose work is perhaps more conceptual than aesthetic can maintain an edge. I'm also really intrigued by Sally Mann's work, perhaps even more controversial. And I saw a fabulous exhibit in London a few years ago -- photographs of older women, many well-known figures but others less so. Such beauty found against conventional conditioning of where to look for it.
    Terri: Sherman's work is always so fascinating and she gets right at the questions I'm trying to articulate as she manipulates images to try to understand the way those images condition the way women move in the world.

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  10. Mardel: You've put your finger precisely on what troubles me! Why am I not surprised?! It's true, there's an unspoken allowance, even expectation, that we dress to a certain standard -- not only do we keep the retail wheels turning smoothly that way, but we conform to the requirements of class as well. But photographing ourselves once we've put together that outfit, looking and taking our own pleasure in what we've created and who we are, that becomes transgressive. And we've so integrated the social limitations around this that we censure ourselves with accusations of narcissism, feelings of shame.
    You weren't long and wordy at all -- you gave me exactly the nudge I needed to think through what bothers me. Thank you.

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  11. Am still thinking. My post today was in some ways to lay the foundation to be able to answer this question. I find that I enjoy, more and more, the self photo part of style blogging. But it got to the point the point where I had to address the issue of my feelings about my looks, before I could post any more self photos. Otherwise it felt like dissembling.

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    1. I've been in transit (to Vanc'r) and busy since your post went up -- could immediately see the connection but haven't yet commented there. I'm keen to see what you write here, if you should find time.

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  12. Wow, this was a great post, I’ve been studying the whole 'gaze' thing at college and I have found it very interesting, especially when linked with identities.
    How weird that just 5 minutes ago I posted about my increasingly negative feelings towards my own ageing process. Not least is when Emin keeps snapping me on his stupid phone looking tired old and haggard. And yet looking at yours and all those other blogs I see nothing but positive energy and envy you all the confidence you have to face the mirror full on.
    Every time I begin to think blogging needs to go on the back burner I read something like this and not only am I inspired to write, but I also feel uplifted that I’m not alone, and that’s why I keep tapping away!

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    1. I'll have to go see what you've posted -- I'm guessing that the photos Emin snaps are not, in his eye, of a haggard woman, but damn, we're hard on ourselves.
      I did quite a bit of work on the "gaze" for my dissertation (which was on the fictional photograph -- photographs that existed only in verbal descriptions in novels), and the topic continues to fascinate me.
      Reading your comment here (as with your posts over there) makes me feel rather deprived that we won't have our visit in London this year. . .

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  13. Hi there just found your blog through Hostess of Humble Bungalow, just wanted to say this post is very interesting and your blog looks great, I am off to have a good nose round! for me one of the problems with photos of people is that the photo just shows a flat, static image - and as I get older, I realise more and more that a person's attractiveness is so much more than just their clothes and features, it's the whole package - their voice, their manner, the spark in the eyes, charm....I think that explains why some people have the reputation of being terribly charismatic though their photos might not give full expression to this - I'm thinking Camilla PB, Bill Clinton....er..

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    1. I agree that there's so much a photo can't convey, unless it's a photograph by a far more skilled portraitist than I am! But there's some kind of seductive power that it offers in its invitation to stare and ponder, something that would be impossible in real life.
      Thanks so much for the kind comments about the post and the blog . . . do poke around and see what I'm about it. I'll be sure to return the favour and check out your blog.

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I'd love to hear your response to my post. Agree, disagree, even go off on a tangent, I love to know you're out there, readers. Let's chat, shall we? I apologize, though, for the temporary necessity of the Word Verification -- spam comments have been tiresomely numerous lately, and I'm hoping to break that pattern.

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