by Florence W Deems

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Am I a narcissist? Nope! Far from it. So then, why, you might wonder, do I do this exercise from time to time - that of subjecting my physiognomy to the scrutiny of my camera lens - instead of turning the lens on someone else?

And that is the $64-million dollar question! Let me tell you, it's just plain agony to shoot myself, knowing that I'll probably be dissatisfied to the point of "ugh-ness" - sometimes even "urpy-ness" - each time I look at the results. So why do I do it?

I must confess, however, that one of my first self portraits, shot years ago, involved shooting the parts of my body that are the furthest from my face - really really brave, don't you think? The first image below I titled "Gymnopedie." Clever, huh? Those feet have grown quite a bit since my totally innocent days, as the second image shows. Could we say that the baby shoes image is sort of a "cousin" of a real self portrait, and therefore, since it's "family," surely it counts?

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Gymnopedie My baby shoes

Next I got a little bolder, but not by much! I shot my reflection in the fuselage of a fighter plane at an Air Force museum. I was happy that no one could really tell that it's me. Yet a little bolder, the next image shows the upper part of my body, minus the legs. A long exposure, camera on a tripod. I dashed into the image before the shutter closed. But, hah! You still can't see my wrinkles!

Confession: You know, it's my collection of those darned wrinkles that really scares me to see. If I didn't have many wrinkles, would I still hate to see my picture?

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Self reflection in fuselage Ghostly Flo

One day I was wandering around. It was rainy, so I was hunting for "mood" shots. Suddenly I saw my reflection in the polished chrome back-plate of a truck's door lock. Perfect! This time the rain would wash away those wrinkles! Looking at a semi-polished stainless steel sculpture one cold day, I shot my reflection with a Lensbaby lens. Goody - still no wrinkles showing! I'm grateful to all the "magics" that intervened between my crop of wrinkles and these self portraits!

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Self in truck door Lensbaby self portrait

So, why DO I do it? To answer this most pressing question, I must bring you forward in time to the first time I was faced - pun intended - with showing my wrinkles via a photographic image. In 2009, I took a Street Portraiture workshop, taught by Craig Tanner and Marti Jeffers. The location, Savannah, Georgia, USA, was perfect for over-coming our fears of approaching strangers to ask if we could make their portraits. Strangers in Savannah are no strangers to cameras. It seems that if approached the right way, with friendliness and interest in their activities, and by taking a few minutes to establish a rapport with them, many people will love to have their picture taken!

Surprise! Well, this was news to me! Since I'd never liked to see myself in a photograph, I'd assumed that other people would be very very reluctant for a stranger to approach them and ask if he/she could make a picture of them. So Craig and Marti told us that if we made portraits of ourselves, and the more we did this, the more comfortable we'd feel approaching strangers. Craig even tossed out the horrible thought that we'd benefit greatly by shooting ourselves daily! AAACH!!! A daily torture session! He actually gave us an assignment to make 4 portraits of ourselves - and then - the holiest of horrors - to present them to Craig for a critique session in front of the whole class!

Our first assignments were fairly easy, though. We partnered with another participant and together we went out, stepping boldly where we'd never stepped before - and turned our lenses on each other. We tried to find the most flattering light and backgrounds and expressions. Fine. All went well for me and my two partners the first two days.

But then came the awful third day - and our assignment was to go shoot strangers -


But, fortunately, since Craig knew that most of us were still rather fearful, again he partnered us. This time I was so gratefully fortunate to be partnered with a woman who is a publicist and approaches complete strangers all the time in her job! So I piggy-backed on her expertise. It was marvelous to watch her work. I'd stand beside her and smile and grin and nod my head, occasionally make favorable comments to the person she had approached. AND felt totally Faux Flo! After my partner would get the person's permission, we'd both start shooting away. Whew!

But back at my motel room, I was faced - pun intended, again - with the problem of making those 4 self portraits! I used the little camera embedded in my laptop for some and for others held my camera on my shoulder and fired away into a mirror. The first images, made with my laptop camera, consisted of my hiding half my face behind a CD or behind my hand with fingers spread. See below. Comical, aren't they? The big brave Flo pretending to be funny, while trying to hide her feelings of abject terror!

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Can you find me? Here's a little bit more of me
Bolder yet Does a faux painting make it any better?

Shooting myself in the motel room's mirror with camera flash wasn't too successful, especially the first time. I almost missed myself and have no idea why this image turned out red. But! The wrinkles aren't showing! However, the next try succeeded better, at least in finally revealing some of my wrinkles. But I don't like my expression.

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Flo in red Flo in blue

Although my portraits of other people seemed to be getting better, it was a different story as regards my horrid self portraits. So, back to the laptop's camera. Waving, well at least with this image you can see some wrinkles. The veggie I'm holding in the next image is called "Buddha's hand."

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Me waving Holding "Buddha's hand" for support

By then the workshop was over and much to my relief, Craig didn't have time to critique those awful self portraits. Whew! But my guilty conscience got the better of me after I got home. I tried again - and again - and again. Finally, with the help of Photoshop CS3, I got some cleaned up self portraits that I was marginally happy with. "How can she feel marginally happy?", you're probably asking. Marginal and happy don't seem to belong in the same sentence. But, for me and my self portraits, they DO belong in the same sentence!

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Chopped - half the wrinkles exposed All the wrinkles exposed
Help from PS CS3 More PS CS3 help
My brother caught me
in a moment of stress
The most recent
reflection attempt

For my most recent attempt, right image above, I used a tiny Minox digital spy camera, which you can just barely see in the image. The color was horrid, so I converted it to black & white.

OK, so now the question still remains: If I'm only marginally happy with the results so far, will I continue to torture myself, some time in the future? Well, I'd like to think that the future looks rather rosy! What do you think?

Please click on the image to see a larger size.

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OKAY! I DID try self-portraiting again. So on to Page 2!

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