This assignment involves creating a visual representation of an element of my persona either formalised just for the camera or one which I adopt under given circumstances. The portrait can be a stylised image with the use of props and costumes or a detached masquerade involving makeup or masks. The performance can be fictitious or created based around true events. A reconstruction of a real event can also be used. My initial ideas involve some of the characters I’ve played in theatre productions most notably my portrayal of ‘Bill Sykes’ in the stage production of Oliver Twist. The character is a villain, murderer and laudanum addict and displays traits easy to mimic, but whilst the portrait below of the character shows performance, it is a portrait taken over a year ago.(see self portrait below)
The issue of my performance portrait is taking some time to work out in my mind. To help the process along I’ve been looking at a number of resources in particular such as Susan Brights book Auto Focus and a number of self portraits by a number of photographers and artists. These have stimulated a number of seedling ideas all of which I feel are worthy of development but whether they have sufficient layers that make a narrative or statement at this point I’m not sure.
To help the process I’m looking first at what I don’t want as I’ve found in the past focussing on the opposite view helps narrow down what I do want.
I don’t want the image to ridicule me, or portray me as something I’m not. The theatre costume self portraits I have taken to date are all of characters based on elements of my own personality and are therefore already within me. For example the Bill Sykes portrait exaggerates and builds upon a personality trait that emerges in me when I’m being treated unfairly or unjustly. I can turn quite nasty. In the stage pantomime performance Aladdin I played the Emperor of China, an exaggeration of an already present authoritative streak.
For any self portrait of me to work to my satisfaction I feel must exploit another aspect of my nature, perhaps one that does not ordinarily lend itself to an acting role but could some how be moulded or developed into a performance.
Inspiration comes from strange sources sometimes. On a visit to the John Lewis department store in Milton Keynes I discovered a shop display that involved two full size trees wrapped up in cloth. The cloth was in various pattered designs but padded out into donut shaped rings which were wrapped around the trunk and branches. It had the effect of making something that was recognisable as a tree into something akin to a cloth sculpture looking perfectly at home in the store surrounded by bolts of cloth and soft furnishings for sale. Regrettably I had no means with me to record the display, but none the less looked further into this approach which research informed me was a form of art called ‘Yarn Bombing’.
The schedule for this self portrait doesn’t lend itself to me 1, learning to knit and 2, knitting a jumper for a full size tree. However the idea of wrapping a tree thus changing its appearance does appeal on several fronts. Firstly my love of natural landscapes and my sense of loss when a beautiful landscape is transformed into a housing estate.
The globalisation of this problem, the slow transformation of the natural world into mans idea of concrete heaven, is something I do care passionately about, especially as we rely on the trees to resupply the earth with oxygen. To take this to its bitter end I can imagine a time when the last tree stands on the earth, its branches already stripped away ready for felling and a barren and lifeless landscape surrounding it. A truly horrific vision of the future.
Following this theme I looked for examples which illustrated this vision and discovered that Easter Island in the Pacific was once covered in trees. Rapa Nui as it was once called was stripped of its trees to use as tools to create stone monoliths to venerate the gods that the Easter Islanders worshipped. With nothing to bind the topsoil drought and famine followed which quickly turned to war. The bitter struggle over the little resources left led to the early demise of their civilisation.
I wanted to include some of these elements in my self portrait assignment. A world without trees, the people wearing breathing masks in order to breathe and a barren landscape devoid of life. Evoking a symbolic vision I am considering wrapping my solitary tree in bandages, a form of Yarn Bombing, to illustrate the vain attempts made today to maintain the health of our trees and protect our future. I would be standing in front of the tree, wearing a divers breathing apparatus and bottles showing our ultimate fate if we don’t get this right.