Proposing the next genre of self-portraiture

The New Self-Portrait

Graduation project AKV.| St.joost

Being authentic and creative started as a romantic culture countering the technocratic oder, but nowadays this has become the social norm. As we all take part in using Social Media, we want to show how true we are to ourselves, and just as important, share this with others. It has become an on- and offline competition to become more true to yourself than others. Everybody is an artist. Tools, techniques and an individual feel for aesthetic have become more readily available and easier to use. We copy, buy, consume and create more creative and authentic output than ever. What role is there left for the artist now creativity, the self and authenticity have taken a central role inside every individual of modern society, now that everyone is an artist?


Where we as humans look for subtle emotional relationships and context, the computer doesn’t have this kind of power. However, the computer can do something else, for example create an almost unthinkable series of images. Thanks to the computer, photography became somewhat measurable. This gives us new opportunities to construct new context in our images. By letting the computer develop databases, these images, which at first sight have no connection at all, develop new connections. These databases - uncompromising, but assigned by an emotional creature - tell new stories, contain new knowledge and are my main source of inspiration in my work.

From a fascination in the self-portrait and Digital Humanities I started with capturing my own life. Known as Lifelogging. Lifeloggers wear computers to capture big parts of, or their whole lives. I am using lifelogging software to research how I can create self-portraits with these computers. This is mainly about the “raw data”. By using my computer, I (or actually my computer) converts this information into images; without making exceptions or compromises. From these experiments emerged my research question:

How can I create a new form of self-portrait with my computer?
During the process, I immersed myself in the various forms of self-portraits. In the history of art there are six categories of the self-portrait which can be defined: The self-portrait as signature, as projection of the self, as study of the self, as fantasy, the narrative self-portrait and the metaphorical self-portrait. Based on my own research, I added two categories, namely the modern selfie (appointed by the Van Dale as word of the year 2013) and my own research, Lifelog as self-portrait.

Each category of the self-portrait takes after its predecessor, but applies an innovative action or reaction with contemporary techniques and visions. The big difference from the Lifelog as self-portrait is that the process is automated, no painter behind a mirror, no subjective expression of the inner self. This is why I see the Lifelog as self-portrait as a new category within the self-portrait genre.

In my research I focus on my romantic authorship that I try to break and question through the anti-romantic action of my computer. I wish to determine my position in the (anti-) romance, but know I am not going to succeed. Eminently a romantic thought. At the same time I am trying to go against the romantic movement by having my creative process and the reaction be carried out by my computer.

Eventually, imagination plays the biggest role in the self-portrait, this is why I see the self-portrait as a romantic product. During my research I tried not to portray as the creator by using my unimaginative computer, but eventually I did it anyway - a human can not turn off their imagination. I therefore put the romantic self-portrait at odds with the anti-romantic action from my computer.

According to the anti-romantic, imagination is a fantasy, made up, thus unreal. Imagination lies outside the reason and rationality of a human being; something you can not measure or analyze. Measuring and analyzing are two actions which I can pursue with my computer. Idealizing reality from romantic values is the great aversion of the anti-romantic.

By applying the anti-romantic action, my self-portraits are no longer images, but lines of text. Filename, ID, hue, saturation and brightness. Measurable, rational and no imagination. To my computer these lines of text are just as well my portraits as my images are. For me too: the backside of our digital photography, the stark reality of our photography. The romantic vision of the authentic original analogue is replaced by lines of data, or a step further, ones and zeroes.

I started by creating databases of self-portraits. Self-portraits from others by downloading them form the internet as well as portraits from myself, made every hour by the webcam inside my computer.

In addition I research the tradition and the practice of the self-portrait through pixel-analysis for color and brightness. By using this contemporary approach I’m breaking the tradition of the classical self-portrait. Regardless of human values as time, emotion, form and moment the software plots all the images into one single collection. It’s no longer about a single or series of images or narratives, but the work evolves into an associative piece of images in which new connections and narratives are constructed for both the viewer and the creator.

The old masters, such as Rembrandt or Van Gogh painted self-portraits by looking in the mirror. That’s how they got their inside to the outside. That’s how they depicted themselves. While working on my project “The New Self-Portrait” I created a machine which captures and visualizes me systematically from an outside position. This to further my main research question as a media artist:

What does it mean for us humans, when a computer gives meaning to our images?
There is no definite conclusion (yet), because this question is intended as a basis for the decisions I made and will make as a media artist. I will not find an answer, a very romantic thought. It is a starting point from which there is much more to explore. In my research I discovered that imagination plays a big role. In my research, experiments and work, By using a computer in my creative process I found out that imagination lies closer to the viewer than me as a maker.

photo by fotoloet

  • Art
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  • Technology