The Self in A Portrait

self-portraitSelf-portrait, Livadia

When you look at yourself in the mirror, you see your opposite and not the way you really are. So is a self-portrait really possible? I mean, how can you truly know yourself via  a reflection. Seeing yourself in a foto doesn’t count  because a foto is an impression of what the camera  sees  and not the way you see yourself.

No face is totally symmetrical. And it is this lack of symmetry that gives us our true identity.

I recently finished reading THE PAINTER by Will Davenport—two parallel stories meant to intersect based  on Rembrandt’s hypothesized stay in Hull, England. Trying to escape a creditor, Rembrandt unwittingly stowaways on a ship. To pay his fare, he’s obliged to paint a portrait of the captain and his wife. And to paint the faces of others, Rembrandt first had to  learn to paint himself.

Rembrandt painted many self-portraits. He often depicted himself wearing a gold chain—that of the royal patronage. But,  unlike Rubens, Rembrandt had never earned this patronage.  In other words, his chain was a fake.

RembrandtRembrandt’s self-portrait  with gold chain


Rembrandt’s self-portrait with gold chain

RembrandtRembrandt’s self portrait with gold chain

RembrandtRembrandt’s self-portrait with gold chain

So a self-portrait is not always of who you are but rather of who you’d like to be.

Asymmetrical. With gold chain.


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2 Responses to The Self in A Portrait

  1. jo Quirk says:

    I wonder what it will be like for this generation of children who are photographed incessantly from conception? I have about 20 photos of my life until the age of 21and they are old and fading. But my image of myself is quite different from those captured moments and now my image of myself is very much about what’s inside and what I put out into the world. I have let my hair go grey and I have rarely been able to wear makeup because of allergies so my real outer self has been a gentle fading and sliding. My waist length hair was a big part of my outer appearance for most of my youth but I think of myself as my hands, and my mind and my eyes from the inside.

    • Funny that you should say this,Jo, as the other evening I was talking with a woman in her 60s who was saying the same thing. When film was used and there was an expense involved in making a foto, one thought first before clicking away. Now, with digital, people are constantly photographing everything whether or not there’s merit in what’s being photographed. The woman I mentioned above, Marie, said she is making a foto album for her grandkids which means having digital fotos professionally printed. Because she wants her grandkids to be able to sit down and look thru an album with intention. No one seems to print fotos anymore and instead want to force you to get your glasses out of your purse to see fotos on an iPhone or tablet. Thanks again, Jo, for a great comment!

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