This I am immortalized for all to remember

This essay will be exploring the critical relationship between the self and the self-portrait, by analyzing how it has developed, evolved and escalated over time. In reference to Chapter 1, How to See the World by Nicholas Mirzoeff. Moreover, looking at several other texts to backup Mirzoeff’s claims and investigate further the self-portrait and how it has impacted our lives and our identity, looking at such things as status, visual culture, mass observation, the self-becoming a performance and the ‘gaze’. Portraiture was the first medium which could be used to preserve the image of oneself, it was however only accessible to those of the wealthy and upper class as they were the only ones who could afford to commission artists to paint them. It was a tool for exhibiting status within a society and sharing a perfect image of oneself. Unlike the ‘selfie’ used today, it was also a way of creating distance between ordinary people and that of the upper class. It simply said ‘you must look up at me and admire my beauty; for I am immortalized for all to remember in a painting’, as Susan Sontag refers to it “desirability is enhanced by distance” (1979, p.16). On the other hand the subject would be at the mercy of the artist illustrating them. Nonetheless this also meant the artist could represent the subject however they wanted to be seen, which is exactly what occurred when it came to portraits of royalty.The Beginning of The Self-Portrait A famous self-portrait of the Spanish painter Diego Velazquez’s called Las Meninas (1656, Illustration 1), depicted a formal scene of the artist himself working on a large canvas looking out at the spectator whilst surrounded by other figures. Among the people illustrated is a young girl who takes center stage in the painting, lit up by the sunlight of the window adjacent to her. This has been done on purpose by Velazquez’s because the young girl is the Infanta Margarita the daughter of Philip IV of Spain and thus royalty. Her gaze and those around her seem to be looking out at the spectator to the presence that we cannot see. However the mirror in the background of the scene reflects what the viewer cannot see, the image of King Philip IV of Spain and Queen Mariana of Austria. Consequently instructing the viewer that everyone should look towards the image of the King and Queen.What the painter does here is create an endless cycle of gazes as Mirzoeff describes it “performances that revolve around the self-portrait of the artist” (p.33, Mirzoeff). The painter looks out at us whilst also looking out at himself who paints the picture, and also looking towards the presence of the King and Queen. As Michael Foucault describes it in the book The Order of Things “though greeted by that gaze, we are also dismissed by it… we were: the model itself. But inversely, the painters gaze” (p.4, ) the painting thus depicts a scene where “no gaze is stable” (p.5, Foucault). The mirror in the scene is an important key element because in a metaphorical sense the image of the King is supposed to be the King, however the King is not depicted in the painting to return the gaze of the others. Thus by doing this Velazquez links what was called ‘the body of the King’ or the ‘majesty’ to the painting. This has been done because the ‘majesty’ was to be “visualized not seen” (p.36, Mirzoeff ) hence the painting is depicting the alluring presence of the King over his subjects; because to insult the institution of the ‘majesty’ was a crime. Therefore by Velazquez putting himself into the painting, he has affiliated himself in turn with “the aura of ‘majesty’ to that of the self-portrait” (p.33, Mirzoeff), putting the artist as the ‘hero’.The self-portrait in many ways was a tool to make others see you how you wanted to be perceived, as Susan Sontag suggests “the camera’s rendering of reality must always hide more than it discloses” (p.23,1979). This can be recognized in the French painter Henri de Toulouse- Lautrec’s work. In his self-portrait named Self-Portrait Before a Mirror (1882), he has used the aid of a mirror to mask his disability as it reveals only his body from the chest up, thus the mirror is used to hide rather than reveal new information, opposite to the effect in the painting Las Meninas. Toulouse-Lautrec’s condition was that he had the upper body of an adult man but abnormally small legs.However what this self-portrait also articulates is that Toulouse-Lautrec did not want to make an exhibit of himself; a freak show, as that is what he would have been seen as at the time. Thus although the mirror conceals it also shows to the spectator he does not want to be defined by his disability. As Mirzoeff claims “Toulouse – Lautrec refuses to cater to this voyeuristic desire to see, but does not distort the reality of his difference” (p.48, Mirzoeff). For Toulouse- Lautrec the mirror was a sight of torture and pain and not of self-admiration, therefore by creating his own self-portrait he puts himself into a position of control.From the invention of photography in 1839 by William Henry Fox Talbot, creating a ‘fixed’ self-portrait of oneself became a lot more simpler and faster than to paint one, also it did not require the skill of an ‘artist’ per say, and thus this made the self-portrait more accessible to the wider public. Hippolyte Bayard who could also be credited with inventing a photographic process at the same time as Talbot; but nevertheless uncredited for the invention, can however be credited for inventing the first ‘selfie’ called the Self-Portrait of a Drowned Man (1839 – 40, Illustration 2). In his photograph Bayard appears to have died by drowning to the spectator, as he lies half naked with eyes closed; but this is not the case, he has instead faked his own suicide hence creating the first photographic fake. Bayard then by creating this staged portrait of himself produces an ‘event’ as Ariella Azoulay (2008) puts it, and consequently the camera by taking this photograph makes the situation; that did not happen, important by freezing it in time. As Azoulay further explains “the photograph bears the seal of the event itself” (p. ,   )Self-Portrait Event Becoming Performance During the time of the 1970s a new art movement was coined, a transition from the Modernist period; which regarded itself on simplistic and idealistic ideals, to the Postmodern period. The Postmodern period as a response looked at challenging these ideals and exploring such things as identity and self-awareness, by often encompassing old work and transforming into something new. As Stuart Jeffries from The Guardian put in his article, whilst Modernist art was “sought to redeem the world”, Postmodern art “was made by artists stuck in a world they could scarcely change” (2011). However it has been debated that the movement started long before the 70s. A reasoning behind this would be because of artists such as Marcel Duchamp who created work around 1917 and was considered to be a  ‘postmodern’ modern artist. This is due to such work as his Fountain (1917) a statue made from a urinal. Which he then placed in a gallery and called art, thus giving value to what you would deem an ordinary object and hence taking away the privilege of the artist to define what art was. Duchamp’s other work such as his Self-Portrait in a Five Way Mirror (1917) showed that Duchamp “did not see himself as one but as many selves” (p.50, Mirzoeff). This fraction of a secure self can also be seen in Duchamp’s self-portrait as Rrose Selavy where Duchamp has dressed up as a woman, calling it his “alter-ego” (p.50, Mirzoeff). Therefore Duchamp displays ‘gender as a performance’ a term coined by Judith Butler in her book Gender Trouble (1990), alluding to the fact your gender is not just your biological anatomy, but a set of society conventions that are appropriated. This demonstrates the transition from the self-portrait being an ‘event’ to a ‘performance’; a postmodern identity. We make ourselves and thus the “The postmodern artist makes him or herself as their primary project” (p.50, Mirzoeff).Following on from this our image and our identity can also be transformed by the use of what is called the ‘filter’ in the 21st century, but in past history was known as retouching. Retouching has been around since the 1840s when a German photographer invented the first technique for retouching a negative which; according to Susan Sontag, “astounded crowds at the Exposition Universelle held in Paris in 1855” (p.86,    ). The creation of retouching made it viable to create what we saw in reality as ugly to beautiful. Nowadays the use of a filter is commonly used to show ourselves in our best light, with airbrushed faces, white teeth, slimmer bodies, and numerous other techniques to create a ‘desirable’ image of yourself. The filter creates a performance of a perfect version of yourself. A citing from Sontag’s book On Photography defines this clearly, “Photographs do not simply render reality – realistically. It is reality which is scrutinized, and evaluated, for its fidelity to photographs” (p.87,1979) What Sontag means by this is that photography has turned reality ugly because we only photograph what we deem as beautiful, instead of the whole picture.Social Media and The SelfieThe definition of the ‘selfie’ in the Oxford dictionary is ‘a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and shared via social media’, consequently anyone with a camera phone can now create their own self-portrait or ‘selfie’. The result of this meant thousands of photographs were being taken and uploaded to the web, “in 2013 184 million pictures were tagged as selfies on Instagram alone” (p.31, Mirzoeff) and in 2014 “the most popular tweet to date” (p.33, Mirzoeff) was a selfie taken be Bradley Cooper which included numerous celebrities  (Illustration 3). Which in turn also highlights the importance presence of the ‘celebrity’ in our culture today. These facts convey how the selfie has become an extremely popular craze to engage with people around you, and now it has become so huge that it works as a  type of mass observation on the world. The selfie sequentially transforms into a way of seeing the world, a global visual culture; studying the world through images.The selfie is all about sharing on social media, an invitation to others to like or dislike; to seek approval. It connects you to the online network so that you feel like there is no distance between you and the network, as you hold the camera close to your face; at arms reach, to introduce a timer would be to create distance. But this just gives the illusion that we see each other more clearly. It just creates,  “Both participation and alienation in our own lives and those of others – allowing us to participate, while confirming alienation” (p.167,1979, Sontag) It just reaffirms are alienation in our world as Sontag suggests. There is a question of ethics however when it comes to the selfie, as identified when Barack Obama; the president of the United States, took a selfie with prime minister David Cameron and Danish prime minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt at the funeral of Nelson Mandela. Or in another case; the selfie’s people were taking at the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin which Israeli artist Shahak Shapira, photoshopped by putting the people in concentration camps (Illustration 4) , to show how offensive it is to mock the dead. Although now there becomes a hazy line when it comes to photographing things in today’s world, as people feel they haven’t experienced an event unless they have made a photograph or a selfie of it. The selfie has also led to a more narcissistic way of looking at oneself, Stephen Marche in Esquire claimed that “the selfie is the masturbation of self-image…It gives control. It gives release” (2013). What Marche means by this is that the selfie gives you control over your own self-image and not an object of someone’s else gaze, however you could suggest that all selfies are feeding the male gaze, as it stems from showing your attractiveness to others a voyeuristic way of looking, Sociology Professor Ben Agger would suggest it was the “the male gaze gone viral” (p.46,      ). But on the other hand the vanity that the selfie gives can lead down a different path, like the Kim Kardashian book of selfies called Selfish (2015) or a more historical way of looking at it could be from the book The Portrait of Dorian Grey by Oscar Wilde. Where Dorian slowly loses his mind because of vanity, to preserve the youthfulness captured in his portrait. “He had prayed that the portrait should bear the burden of his days, and he keep the unsullied splendour of eternal youth!” (p.250, 1930).In conclusion the self-portrait has evolved and expanded from a long history of different mediums and ideas to the selfie that it is known as today, and affected and influenced spectators in different ways. The points argued in this essay would suggest that the self-portrait it perpetually changing and is still dealing with issues such as identity and self.