Self and Portrait

Joel Koczwarski and CCI Fabrika present “Self and Portrait” a series of diptychs that explore the role of portraiture in the development of modern subjectivity.

Koczwarski explores narcissism, intentionality and the portrait as both a representation of the subject and the creation of a new subjectivity through photographic portraiture. The artist presents a series of diptychs: first is an image made with the earliest method of photographic portraiture, second, using the latest method, the selfie. Using these techniques that span a century, Koczwarski shows how changing means and representation of the self-in-public relate to issues of subjectivity, power and vanity.

Koczwarski uses a legendary portrait lens that was designed in 1901 to capture the earliest photographic images of royalty – including Japanese Emperor Hirohito, who famously allowed his portrait to be taken only with this lens.

In this classic style of portraiture the subject must sit at length in complete darkness while the camera is prepared and the film is opened. Suddenly the camera flashes and an image is captured on film. Sitting for such a portrait was an act of vanity reserved mostly for elites, in the tradition of painted portraits dating back to the middle ages. But the subject, by giving themselves over to the photographer and relinquishing control over the process, gives themselves over to the gaze of another. The subject is perceived, captured on film by the photographer, and the image is at once true and revelatory beyond the intention of the subject. Over time, as these captured images are saved for posterity, they transition from being a representation of the subject to becoming works of art: subjects themselves.

The Selfie creates its own subjectivity in real-time. Subjects create an online “self” through these images. Beyond merely representing a subject in cyber space, they create a new, ideal subject — everyone now has the ability to create their own virtual self in a virtual environment. However, we often spend more time interacting with one-another online than in the analog world; the online subject created through the selfie forms the idealized self in public. The methodology of the selfie, lending the subject-as-author near-ultimate power over their image, allows the subject to mask their own subjectivity as they seek to create a new one.

While the Emperor existed as a subject in his own time, his portrait becoming a subject in and of itself with the passage of time, the selfie-subject creates a new subjectivity, and becomes this new subject through the act of iterative self-portraiture. The created subject and the living subject become one, indistinguishable from one-another. We exist online, therefore we are.

Is this fascination with the selfie and the creation of our own subjectivity a sign of rising vanity in our time? Or is it simply a product of finally attaining power over the creation of the self and exerting it in real time?

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