Auto-Focus – The Self Portrait in Contemporary Photography – Susan Bright (2010)

Auto-Focus is a look into the different sub-genres of self portraiture and the artist that are recognised for epitomising these approaches.

Susan Bright, author of several books and papers on photographic theory, breaks the category of self-portraiture into 5 sub-genres namely;

  • Autobiography – similar to the understanding used in literature but here challenged and expanded upon with themes of authenticity, vulnerability and personal history juxtaposed with unreliable narrators, art history and perceptions.
  • Body – both in the sense of the body as a thing or object but also in challenging the concept of the body as our identity. This includes the processes of the body, internally and externally as well as the differences between genders.
  • Masquerade – The practice of adopting personas or roles in communicating ideas again about self, culture, identity, race, gender and sexuality amongst others.
  • Studio and Album – The act of creating a controlled environment to photograph someone and how that impacts on the perception of the subject and also how the personality of the subject can reflect the surroundings. also covering the methods of display and how the ‘Photo Album’ present images within a different context.
  • Performance – Where an artist is using the portrait in both capturing and recording a performance art piece but also in were the camera becomes part of the performance either as the gateway for the audience or as a voyeuristic or controlling power or presence.

This list is only an overview of what Bright present and as such is not conclusive or definitive, more often than not the Artists referred in this book cross over several of the sub-genres but predominantly operate or created specific works within one of the genres listed.

The headings of each of the sub-genres are essentially a gateway into introducing a vast array of Artists to the reader in a way that prepares you for the reading of the images. Going in cold to each work would lessen the effect and with this, Bright primarily selects 3 images from a prominent collection of work to communicate the fundamentals of that artists concept and drive.

I have found the book very helpful and interesting both in further developing my own understanding of the use of Self-Portraiture in the Photographic work but also introducing me to several new Artists whilst helping to develop or reaffirm my understanding of others.

It’s not often I purchase hard back books, especially ones which are listed for academic study purely due to cost savings but, I am glad I bought this one used online as the large format of the resource has made it easier to read and appreciate the included artworks, several online PDF’s don’t include the images. The only downside being that this is obviously printed to a cost level which comes through in the quality which is acceptable but I would really like to see the included works at a higher level of quality, something I can online but with losing the effect of having several pieces together and in a tactile way.

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