Pinhole Self Portraits

Posted on October 31, 2012


I am being very indecisive about the long exposure portrait project! I have now decided to pursue two avenues in parallel.

The first will be the portraits of my Rotary colleagues in the style of David Octavius Hill as outlined in the last post.

The second is the series of long exposure self portraits which I have also mentioned in previous posts. I was inspired to keep going with this idea when I recently saw work by two photographers Duane Michals and Claude Cahun. I now plan to persist with the idea of double self portraits using a loose working title of Alter Egos – I am not sure if I am using this term correctly in a psychological sense? 

Michals is an American artist/photographer. In his personal work he attempts to address literary and philosophical ideas about death, gender and sexuality. He works with staged scenes and  experiments with multiple exposures, sequences and combining text and drawings with his images. I came across his work when I was watching a DVD CONTACTS which I bought at Tate Modern recently. The DVD has short videos of about 35 photographers reviewing their contact sheets – it is excellent. On researching a little deeper into Michals work I came across his portraits of Rene Magritte. Michaels used double exposures for some of these, directly referencing the painter’s Surrealist background. See here  for some of Michals work.

Claude Cahun was a French artist, photographer and writer. Her work was both political and personal, and often played with the concepts of gender and sexuality. She had links with the surrealist movement in the 1930s and participated in a number of surrealist exhibitions. A number of her self portraits use double exposures. Here  is one of her portraits which is a particular favourite.  The work is ambiguous on a number of levels: two heads, divergent gazes, different expressions (one evil and one vulnerable is my take) all coupled with her androgynous look.

I plan to make the self portraits with a digital camera with a pinhole lens.  The soft focus of this lens will help to reinforce the psychological feel of the photographs. On a practical level, this choice of camera and lens gives me greater flexibility to keep exposure times for the photographs to around 45 seconds. I may also end up using the same set up for the first project, although I was thinking of making those portraits with black and white film, which is why I had rejected the use of the pinhole lens (the slower film speed and allowance for reciprocity failure of the film increases the exposure times from 45 seconds to nearly 5 minutes). I have mapped out a number of different scenarios for the poses. In each I will change the direction of the gazes and the nature of the poses (ranging from head-shots to full body portraits). These changes with alter the relationship between the two versions of me represented, which may well suggest alternative narrative interpretations. Here is my first effort:

Alter Egos #1 by Keith Greenough

CONTACTS 1, 2,3 Arte VIDEO Available from: [Accessed on:31st October 2010]