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  • Writer's pictureJo Sutherst

Final Major Project: Masquerade And The Self-Portrait

My self-portraiture work is not about being myself. I am nobody and I am everybody at the same time. Makeup enables me to adopt a disguise. My presented persona makes a statement to the world about the role of makeup and the transformation it offers us.

Throughout the history of art, masquerade and self-portraiture have been explored by many artists. In the world of today’s contemporary art, this tradition is thriving.

The camera acts as a stage for the performance of roles. Masks and makeup form a protective layer around the performer. It enables the artist (photographer) to be confrontational in the message they are delivering. Masquerade and disguise are powerful in allowing the photographer to explore themselves and to challenge the way in which we view identity. This is particularly true in the online visual conscious world, where every image we self-curate and publish defines who we are in the eyes of others.

Self-portraiture allows the photographer to express inner feelings and present emotions. There is an element of self-analysis when viewing the images that penetrate beneath the visible surface to the inner self. The act of taking one’s own portrait is not authentic. The photographer constructs the image, performing for the camera.

“I pose, I know I am posing, I want you to know I am posing, but … this additional message must in no way alter the precious essence of my individuality.”

– Barthes (in Bright 2010: 141)

Despite Barthes thoughts on this, there is nothing authentic about self-portraits. The images are nothing more than a representation of the photographer. A representation that they have constructed and subjectively rendered to deliver their message. It is this staged representation that the viewer will then individually interpret based on their experiences and perceptions of the image.

“From the idea that the self is not given to us, I think there is only one practical consequence: we have to create ourselves as a work of art.”

– (Foucault. 1997: 262)

The self-portrait does not then represent the authentic and single self. Instead, it provides a glimpse into the various elements that go together to form the identity. It allows us to see and start to understand what lies beneath the surface.

How do we know what the difference is between a self-portrait and simply a picture that someone takes of themselves? Self-portraits are becoming a bigger part of our visual language as they become more and more ubiquitous through online sharing. They are, now, essential to our online communications.


Bright, S. 2010. Auto focus. Paris: Thames & Hudson.

Foucault, M. 1997. Ethics The essential works of Michel Foucault, 1954-1984. London: Penguin Books ltd.

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