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Self Portraits - A tool in identity building

Updated: Oct 5, 2023

Who you are with yourself is probably the most intimate bond you can explore. I say this because you are in control of your body and actions and hence can manifest whoever you want to be. You respond to a thought seconds from thinking it because you don’t need to communicate to anyone. You can feel a thing and slap another feeling on it and no one outside will see it on your face. With all this power, why then do we feel ‘less’, ‘flawed’, ‘ugly’? We seem to wear a velcro jacket that only picks up adjectives others use to describe us and before you know it, you have placed those beliefs on yourself. It’s risky business, the velcro picks up the dandelions but also the thorns. Whether it’s about wearing that swimsuit sans beach body, or straightening your limbs in confidence - we’re going to have to unpack this unpleasant topic to get anywhere with self-love. While the topic of self love is broad, we can chip at it from different angles and hope that the core will one day reveal itself. The first thing I picked up on this journey? Self portraits. And then, through the eyes of another - I was reborn. I was erased of my imperfections. I could see for the first time, my own face witnessing and expressing the mundane. I could observe myself as the world saw it. Somehow, at the very moment I realized this, I also knew that this logic flows both ways. I could project who I wanted to be, I could reinvent with every shutter click and every frame. The camera and me, our chemistry was pure creation.” - PB What counts as a self portrait? Any art form depicting yourself can be interpreted as a self portrait. You could insert yourself in a story and build yourself in third person. You could pick up a few brushes and paint yourself in new colors. Or you could take your phone camera, place it on a ledge, keep it on auto time, and pose. The freedom in all these forms of self projection is immense, it allows you to creatively explore yourself and get to know the stranger living within you. How is it different from my usual pictures? Good to clarify this right now. Self portraits are tools to immerse yourself in your identity. The act is intimate. Selfies and pictures taken of you by someone else may still have you as the subject of the frame, but will always show the surface version of you. As you can guess, your smile, and your body language are practiced poses that repeat across a variety of locations. You eventually fade out, it is all about the background then. The environment is restricted, and hence you are retrained in your expression. Body and its mysteries In Latin, the word ‘portrait’ can be traced to mean ‘to take out’. We use the term ‘develop’ to process a photograph. In all the ways I see it, the camera lens is a powerful way of bringing out the version you want. There is a particular feeling in being exposed as the only subject in frame, and what we choose to do with those precious seconds speaks a lot about our inner feelings. Would you stand rigid, would you turn your face away, would you show your side profile because you’re conscious of a beer belly? The taken photograph at the end of ten seconds tells the viewer a story frozen in time. It also shows you the rare beauty of angles you would otherwise find unflattering. Real beauty With all the spending power, awareness, and climbing the power structure - there is still a deep inbuilt mechanism that doubts oneself. Brands show off a certain ‘curated beauty’ that can never match our daily selves that flit between making morning chai and withering in traffic. It then seems impossible to even aspire for so we unsubscribe from the narrative, yet seldom redefine it for ourselves. Self portraits then become the medium and safe space to boldly go about being yourself - flaws, imperfections, skin tones, flabs, whatever be damned. Self-acceptance With time, what one would observe by sticking to self portraits is this: you are what you are and you better start loving it before you waste any more time chasing another label. You grow to accept curves, lines, weird angles, long limbs, thick ankles, spine dimples, et all. You are aware as you step out into the world that these are the details you carry and you love yourself for it. The pictures also serve for permanence - you can document yourself over key stages in life like teenage, adulthood, pregnancy - and watch in awe as you transform each time. How do I get started? If you’ve decided to even take one picture, well I’m happy. The journey might be filled with initial discomfort and confrontation but also brings pleasant surprises and adventures. Here’s how you can go about your self portrait: a) Find a safe space: Make sure you’re comfortable in this sanctum of sorts. It helps if no one comes knocking and if you’re left undisturbed for roughly 15 minutes. b) Choose your clothing: Many artists do explore this space as their rawest self but that is not the only way this needs to be done. You can wear anything that expresses yourself best or strip down to some pretty lingerie you feel confident in. c) Pick a prop: It helps to have something to interact with in your frame. You could lean on a chair, cover yourself with a hat, sway with a scarf, or anything else really! Having something in hand gives a starting point and some natural poses.

d) Play some tunes: Have a playlist that’s bound to get you grooving or just in a playful happy mood. Remember that this is one task with no one to hold you accountable but yourself. Make a mess of it, have fun, celebrate yourself. e) Take multiple shots: It might take 4-5 shots to understand the dialogue with the camera. That is perfectly okay. This is where you start understanding and evolving to what you want to show, so don’t hold back. Explore multiple poses and props to have your own self portrait series. The mantra I usually go by when doing a shoot is: Whatever it is, it is mine. Be proud of what you’ve created. You can showcase it to the world or keep it in your own gallery - the purpose is purely for the self and is intended to show you (no one else) what an amazing human being you are. Here are a few shots from my own collection to get you inspired.


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