Looking towards Assignment Three

Posted on June 25, 2012


Assignment three is intended to be a series of self portraits. I must say after the reception of my self portraiture work in Lanzarote, I am a little apprehensive about this project. I started the work some time ago and have posted some of the images on this blog previously. I plan to continue with along the same vein and see what turns out. The work will be  completed during the run up to my next ironman race in Frankfurt (two weeks from now) and during the training period for the following race in Louisville Kentucky in late August.

Ironman training forms a huge part of my life and the fact that I can call myself  an ‘Ironman’ has a major influence on my self esteem. My principle aim with this work is to try to explore what being an ironman  means for me and to show something of the hard work, pain and sheer persistence involved.

Here are some of the portraits I have made so far. All were taken with the same formal set up, i.e. lighting, background etc and all were captured immediately after a training session. The individual images are captioned with the details of the training session which took place. This is not a  final edit.

‘I am an Ironman’ self portrait series

I  have been reading into other photographers who work in this vein and have been particularly influenced by three photographers, Rineke Dijkstra, Elina Brotherus and Lee Friedlander. One of my fellow students made a comment on Flickr  to the effect that that self portraiture was ‘just for girls’. Whilst this is patently not the case it does seem that the majority of such work is by women. Perhaps this is because women are more self critical.

Rineke Dijkstra, who is a photographer who has been a significant influence on my ‘I am an Ironman’ work, began her large format portraiture work with a series of self portraits. The following quote is from a recent interview. “First I decided to make portraits of myself and not concern myself with posing, do away with it in fact…..So,I thought I’ll go swim thirty laps, then I’ll stand there, too tired to pose…” (Dijkstra, pp 46).

So Dijkstra was trying to find a way to disengage the natural inclination to present a desired self image through posing. This is exactly what I have been trying to do with my self portraiture work. I am encouraged by the fact that the body language and facial expressions in the portraits vary and not in a way that I consciously recall.

Elina Brotherus has a photographic practice which is based largely on self portraiture. Her approach is to produce the portraits at times when she is distracted with significant life events. She has stated that “It’s only possible for me to photograph when something really happens, which makes the images authentic, emotionally genuine. Even though I construct images, I don’t act or role-play, and in this sense my work is rooted in the documentary tradition.” (Brotherus)  A good example of this is her ‘Divorce Portrait’ here.

The third photographer who has influenced my thinking with this work is Lee Friedlander. Friedlander has incorporated self portraiture into his work over many years. It is a part  of his practice and by no means the main thrust. He seems to have developed a fascination with finding curious ways of including his own presence within his photographs – a shadow, a reflection in a window or a car mirror etc. He has also produced many ‘straight’ self portraits which in my view are distinguished by the fact that he shows himself as he really is with no attempt to glamorise. William Ewing makes the following observation whilst commenting on two Friedlander self portraits from the 1990’s, “Self-portraits of photographers are usually arrogant affairs…Rare indeed is the self-portrait in which the photographer admits to his powers with age…Here, however, Lee Friedlander faces up to his imminent demise ” (Ewing, pp 48)

My aim is to follow Friedlander’s example and to produce self portraits which show me as I really am and not some ‘pimped up’ version of an Ironman one often sees in magazines etc.


Dyskstra R. (2012) Rineke Dykstra: A Retrospective New York: The Solomon R Guggenheim Foundation

Brotherus E. (Interview 1999) Das Mädchen sprach von Liebe (1997-1999) Available from:    http://www.elinabrotherus.com/photography/das-madchen-sprach-von-liebe/  [Accessed on 24th June 2012]

Ewing W.A. (2006) FACE The New Photographic Portrait  London: Thames & Hudson