featured gallery for May 2006

The "Me" You See

All self-portraits are a gift the artist has chosen to share with us, and I've been keenly interested in artist's self-portraits as a collector for many years. During the past year and a half, however, during the production of my most recent book Self-Exposure: The Male Nude Self-Portrait, photographers' self-portraits in particular have been an almost daily presence in my life and work, stacked on my credenza, archivally sleeved and boxed around my work space, and slowing down my hard drive. It seemed a natural extension of that process to focus my attention on just a few of the many self-portraits included in the Frank Moore Archive Project at Visual AIDS, and I particularly wanted to look beyond the work of photographers and explore some of the fine art self-portraits in this collection, as well.

I've intentionally juxtaposed the images in ways that make visual or emotional sense to me. Some artists look at us directly, with an unflinching gaze, while others shy away from the viewer, perhaps in false modesty or a true moment of reflection. Others seem to want to goad us into looking at them more closely, uncovering for us their flaws, or conversely, airbrushing or masking their flaws to make themselves more desirable to us. Whatever their true purpose, the images I've selected for inclusion in this gallery speak of the artist's desire to either reveal or obscure himself.

That underlying artistic tug-of-war -- to reveal, or not to reveal -- is at the core of all self-portraiture. It is a uniquely personal form of artistic expression, and I suppose one of the reasons this idea resonated with me -- aside from my immersion in it for the purposes of producing my book -- is that my own reasons for shooting self-portraits probably are very similar to some of these artists' motivations: I want to leave evidence that I was here.

Like many artists, my own motivation is vanity. Not in the narcissistic sense, as in, "Oh, look at me," but in a somewhat different (but equally vain) sense. Over the years, as people have looked through my portfolios or books of images of attractive men, I have become inured to hearing comments like, "Wow, he's really hot," or "God, he's gorgeous." What my vanity wanted to hear was, "Gee, what a beautiful image you shot," or "I love the way you lit him to bring out his beautiful eyelashes and cheekbones." I wanted acknowledgment that these photographs existed because I took them. So a number of years ago, at the end of almost every session, I began shooting a roll or two of self-portraits with my models. It was my way of inserting myself -- physically -- into my photographs. I wanted to force the viewer to acknowledge me, not just as the creator of the images, but as a presence in them. After all, isn't the creator of all art present in everything he or she creates, even if it isn't in the forced and literal manner I've chosen?

Similarly, as I reviewed the thousands of images available to curate this exhibition, I consciously looked for artists whose representations of themselves in one way or another seemed to want us to see them -- not simply as artists who are skilled with paint or pencil or Pentax, but as beings who have shared airspace and earthspace with us. "This is, in some small part, who I am," these images seemed to say to me. "I want you to know I was here."