The Naked Self-Portrait

I wished to become part of this project myself; after all it is hardly fair that I ask this of my subjects without being willing to display myself in a similar way. However the naked self-portrait is proving to be more difficult to achieve than I first envisioned. I am no stranger to disrobing for the camera, but in the past this has been as a means to portray a message so I have been performing for the camera in order to convey this. Alternatively they have been personal pictures that flatter which I could then utilise to show-off both myself and my skills as a photographer. The intent of this project, though, is to capture not nudes, but naked portraits; a subtle yet distinct difference. When I am shooting these images for subjects I am able to wait and compose the shot when they are at their most comfortable and in a natural position rather than being posed; therefore I am capturing them in the act of being naked as opposed to them displaying themselves nude for my lens. When it comes to placing myself in front of my camera things become a lot more complex. These can never be a captured stolen moment – they are of their nature set-up and posed so the ability to have a natural image is greatly reduced. As Michael Worton questions “Why has the photographer chosen to show himself in this way?” (Worton & Still. p.20). My sitters are subject to my choice of their capture and therefore not in control of when the shutter is released so they either put on a performance for the duration of the shoot in anticipation of the shot or else they relax entirely and trust me to capture a good image. Yet when I photograph myself the choice of when to release the shutter is mine, therefore my role is (debatably) always a performance.

Juergen Teller Selbstportrait Sauna Bubenreuth Germany 2002
Fig. 1. Juergen Teller Selbstportrait Sauna Bubenreuth Germany 2002

This is not my intent – what I want is something natural and I struggle to achieve this when I am subject myself. What I am after is something like this shot of Juergen Teller (Fig. 1) – it is titled self-portrait so the assumption is he was in control of the shutter yet it looks like a stolen moment. It does not appear posed & this is no stylised nude, but a candid photograph of a naked man and this is the atmosphere I want to achieve with my own self-portrait.

Fig. 2 Northey April 2017

(Fig. 2) Was captured at a Hotel in Derby so really it goes against the grain of this project being shot in the sitter’s domestic space. But there is a lot about the image that I feel is successful. The way it is sliced into five segments with only two segments holding items of distinct interest (i.e. the two protagonists). But they are kept apart on opposite sides of the picture. One subject is looking out of the frame of view further emphasizing the distance between them. The lighting is dark, moody and slightly cinematic in colouring. The fact that I am both exhibitionist and voyeur plays with questions of the gaze as the viewer is also caught up in the intimacy of the shot. Being shot on a smartphone there is not the quality to be able to display as a large print, but if it were printed small (6×4 maybe?) then the viewer would be forced to peer at it, heightening the voyeuristic aura of the image.

Fig. 3 Northey April 2017

(Fig. 3) I find my own home space uninspiring; obviously I know it too well and cannot find very much around the house that I can see objectively. So when I add myself to a potential portrait in the same domestic environment I struggle to see something new and exciting to photograph. This may explain why I find it so difficult to create interesting naked portraits of myself in my home space. I do not know rightly how I feel about this shot. You could say it is poorly executed and poorly lit. Part of the ethos for these domestic portraits is to make the best of available light rather than creating a studio set-up that just looks commercial. I look disengaged with the lens which I find a rather interesting expression (partially because I was tired and wasn’t concentrating, but most likely because I didn’t have my specs on & couldn’t focus!) The light from the standard lamp is overpowering and draws your attention away from the rest of the picture and I rather like the thought of being incidental and blended into the shadow. The pose could be considered in the form of a nude, yet my facial expression counteracts this; I may be displaying all I have for the world to judge yet my attitude seems belligerent. I feel I have captured more successful images of my other subjects but perhaps this is because they were more flattering. This image was not designed to flatter so possibly I am trying to read it with the wrong set of criteria


Worton, Michael & Still, Judith Typical Men: Recent Photography of the Male Body by Men Djanogly Art gallery, Nottingham, 2001

2 thoughts on “The Naked Self-Portrait

  1. cpluzc May 1, 2017 / 5:59 pm

    Seems no one is looking happy, proudly, ….


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