Liz Orton / Project Diary / Queens Park Community School

Queen’s Park Community Schools Session 12

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Session 12 focused on the production of a self-portrait. Many pupils brought in a change of clothes, or used a prop. There is no getting away from the fact that self-portraiture is a challenging introduction to the medium of photography. I’ve met very few people who feel happy with pictures of themselves. It’s easy to feel we’ve just been caught at a bad angle or in an ‘off’ moment. So, doing self-portraiture, pupils can fall into the trap of thinking that because they are in control they should be able to make a perfect self-image. This whole concept is problematic of course, especially when defined around appearance. We talked a lot about what we value in other portraits – a sense of narrative, mystery, uncertainty for example – and that this has very little to do with ‘looking good’. Many of them came with the idea of showing one particular aspect of their character such as shyness, playfulness or creativity.

Pupils worked two at a time, with an average of about ten minutes each to make a self-portrait. This is not much time at all, so they had to work quickly.Some of them used the remote shutter release, but others found this difficult so I pressed the shutter button. Some pupils stuck strictly to the sketches they had made, while others preferred to forget the sketch and work more spontaneously.

Some pupils found this difficult – they felt self-conscious and with those feelings it’s difficult to be creative. So I employed a range of strategies, from leaving the room completely, to distracting conversations, or starting with a straight portrait, with a neutral pose and expression. For some of them I pointed out gestures and body language that they seemed to use, and encouraged them to experiment with that.

Here is a selection of self-portraits. I have only posted ones in which pupils can’t be directly identified. Once I have permission I will post some more.

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