Revised Proposal

I will be creating a photographic portraiture project addressing the issue of self identity after death: raising the question of whether our self identity is only present in our lifetime as a set substance, or whether it stays alive in the memories that you leave behind after you die. To address the issue I will be incorporating the idea of abjection and mortality.

To create the image I want, I will take studio portraits of my subjects, and then separately photograph images of mould and fabricated bodily fluids/ parts etc. I will then photoshop the images to create the illusion of rotting body parts on the subjects.

As I mentioned in my previous proposal, I want to use the conventions of fashion photography in my photographs, so I plan on using vibrant colour palettes, creating a contrast between the rotting body and the rest of the image.

My partner Emma and I will be carrying out some test shots in the next week or two, where we can both take sample images to see how I can make the rotting skin images look realistic and possible to photoshop, I will also be renting a macro lens as I think this will help me achieve the desired effect.

My photographs will be presented in print form.




Julia Kristeva desribes abjection as :

“that which threatens us by transgressing the bodily boundaries between self and other, challenging our bodily identity. Most of what is abject centers around the body – shit, piss, vomit, blood, saliva, filth, waste, pus, bodily fluids, and open wounds – those substances which are disturbing because they turn our insides out, dissolving the acceptable perimeters between inner/outer, living/dead, human/animal, male/female, clean/defiled, natural/supernatural.”
I have decided to research abjection within photography and portraiture, as I have decided to focus my project on the concept of self identity after death: Does our identity live on after we die and our bodies rot?
I will be portraying this through portraits of people with rotting body parts (using photoshop, of course). I want my project to look into the way that it is our human nature to be abject to the ‘gruesome’ truths about our bodies after we die and therefore avoid representing it/ showing it (e.g. dressing dead bodies and putting make up on them for funerals to make them look like they are sleeping rather than dead)  and whether the gruesomeness of a dead body is a factor in whether or not someones self identity lives on after they die.

Self identity after death

In my research on Self identity, I was aware that a lot of the concept of self identity is based on the feelings and opinions of the people in question.

The idea of photography shifting from a platform to commemorate the family etc. to a form of identity made me think about identity after death: does a persons self identity live on after they die or does it disappear with them? As Harrison mentions, family portraits, individual portraits etc were used as a way of remembering a person and carrying on their legacy and memory after they had gone.

John Locke, a philosopher on identity believes that identity is entirely based on an individuals ,memory, arguing that if a person looses their memory, they have therefore lost their self identity. The more radical side to his argument is that consciousness can be transferred: arguing that after a person dies, their consciousness and therefore memories can be transferred to another substance: same soul, different person.

An opposing argument from Joseph Butler argues that self identity is a substance within itself and that death is therefore a loss of the identity. In opposition to John Locke he says:

“I can remember only my own experiences, but it is not my memory of the experience that makes it mine, rather i remember only because sit is already mine. So while memory can reveal my identity with some past experience, it does not make the experiencer me. What I am remembering then, are the experiences of a substance, namely, the same substance that constitutes me now”

This research has made me a feel a lot more certain about what I want to base my project around and how I want to portray identity though my photographs.

Self Identity

When researching Self Identity I found that the term always comes alongside the terms ‘Self Concept’, ‘Self Image’.

Joseph A. Bailey describes self image as “The total subjective perception of oneself, including an image of ones body and impressions of ones personality, capabilities and so on” and Self concept as “A schema consisting of an organised collection of beliefs and feelings of oneself”

These two definitions of identity both describe it as a subjective, and personal belief: the way in which you view yourself physically and emotionally.

I have been stuck in a rut with my project, with a lot of loose ends when it came to making a decision about whatI wanted to focus in on and what to photograph. The research I did on self identity made me begin to think about self identity compared with the identity of the subjects we see in photographs: do the audience see the subject as he/she sees themselves?

I want my project to question what defines our self identity, as many artists have created self portraits attempting to convey their self identity in countless different ways: the people surrounding them, the things they own that are special to them, the way they look, their memories etc.

Harrison says that there is a “shift from personal photography being bound up with memory and commemoration towards pictures as a form of identity formation: cameras are used less for the remembrance of family life and more for the affirmation of personhood”




David Jay: The Scar Project



David Jay is a photographer who conducted a series of portraits of women who had undergone mastectomies showing the scars left behind. I find this project really inspiring as I feel he raises a very three dimensional issue: raising the issue of scarring and where it stands within the societies ‘definition’ of beauty, as well as commenting on the role of female body within fashion and mainstream photography. By shooting the women topless, and in the poses you would expect from fashion photography, the artist is challenging the expectations of women in western society and showing that the subjects are still beautiful, and elegant, and glamorous despite the fact that they no longer have breasts.


David Jay also did a project called ‘The Unknown Soldier’ where he photographed veteran soldiers who had suffered larger amount of scarring or limb amputation. Again, challenging societies desire to hide scarring and deformities.



John Coplans

John Coplans is a photographer who bases his work on self portraiture. I am drawn to his work because it opens up another window to body image portrayal within photography.

I feel that Coplans work is another strain of Realist photography like Goldin’s, however rather than using location and shooting style to portray realism, his work focusses on his own body. His pictures, however, do not raise the issue of body size as seen in fashion photography, but focus on one of societies remaining taboos: the ageing body.

Self-Portrait (Hands Spread on Knees) 1985 by John Coplans 1920-2003

“The principal thing is the question of how our culture views age: that old is ugly … Just think of Rodin, how he dealt with people of all ages. I have the feeling that I’m alive, I have a body … I can make it extremely interesting. That keeps me alive and vital. It’s a kind of process of energising myself by my belief that the classical tradition of art that we’ve inherited from the Greeks is a load of bullshit.”- John Coplans


For my own work, I am drawn to this idea of challenging the societal taboos and creating images that may feel initially uncomfortable to look at. As discussed in our tutorial meeting and form the research I have found, it is clear that it’s not easy to find a taboo in portraiture photography that hasn’t been challenged within fashion photography. However, as Coplans showed in his work, these types of images are not what we are used to seeing, and the issue of ageing and the ageing body is one that the fashion industry is still yet to take on.

Self-Portrait (Frieze No. 2, Four Panels) 1994 by John Coplans 1920-2003


Dirty Realism


Greer and Robert on the bed, NYC 1982 by Nan Goldin born 1953

Dirty Realism is a type of fashion photography, originally stemmed from the culture obsession of ‘being real’ trying to set their work apart from the fashion photography portraying glamorous ‘mannequins’ with set facial expressions and poses; the dirty realist photographers shot gritty and uncomfortable pictures. This is where the movements such as grunge and indie kid took hold. Both fashion subcultures involved over or under sized clothing; rejecting the traditional fashion that came previously.

‘All of these movements contained the ideology of punk: defiance of traditional norms and nihilism.’


Nano Goldin, a famous photographer in the dirty realism movement in fashion often focussed on taboo subjects such as fetish, sex, homosexuality, drug addiction and transvestism. One well known piece by her was a self portrait of herself after being beaten by her husband: to ‘show her world without glamorisation or glorification.’ The shots themselves were often blurred and gritty to create a more authentic and ‘everyday’ shot.



Appropriation in Fashion photography

During my tutorial meeting, we discussed how, to come to a final idea, I need to look at appropriation within fashion photography and how I can either incorporate this into my work or find a way of distancing from it.

One example of this that came to mind was the Rimmel model Georgia May Jagger:

gaptoothBy using Georgia May Jagger for their campaign and exaggerating the gap in her teeth, Rimmel have taken something from outside of the norm and incorporated into the fashion world.


Heroin Chic

I have been reading up on the ‘avante grade’ period of fashion in the 90’s, in which a new type of fashion photography/ models came about: most commonly referred to as ‘her ion chic’.

I wanted to explore the public reaction to heroin chic and what made it so controversial. One piece of online reading i found particularly helpful was ‘How Fashion Became a Scapegoat for Cultural Anxieties’ by  Jenna Ledford. In her writing she discuses how ‘fashion and the reactions it spawns are often indicators of larger cultural issues’ mentioning that heroin chic was a follow-on step from dirty realism in fashion.


‘The fantasy of 1980s fashion imagery did not suit the sense of hopelessness of this generation. Generation X craved something more authentic in the culture of its time, something that would not create a sense of false hope in them.’

In this quote, Ledford talks about how the heroin chic period was a result of the generations ‘needs’ and how the public were craving authenticity in fashion photography. By reflecting on the times current issues (drug addiction) fashion was becoming a type of realism:

‘Photographers of dirty realism did this in order to “examine and reflect cultural and physical imperfections, instead of constructing a lie of transcendent beauty”‘

One thing I find interesting in about this concept, is how it highlights the circles the fashion photography goes in. As discussed in our tutorial meeting, fashion photography is constantly trying to keep one step ahead of the public: when there are issues raised around the pressures of body image in reaction to the glossy, breasty, perfectly made up models seen in fashion photography post 1990’s, Calvin Klein reacts with images of Kate Moss looking gaunt and fragile with dark circles under her eyes. About ten years later when this controversy is still ripe (moral panics about images promoting drug use and eating disorders) Dove releases a ‘Real Beauty’ campaign encouraging women to be proud of their bodies. This campaign, however’ raises the argument of ‘skinny hating’ as it shows only women with natural curves insinuating that ‘real beauty’ does not apply to those with more ‘straight down’ figures.






Fashion Photography

After seeing the Horst exhibition, I was drawn to the idea of fashion photography and it’s conventions, and drew inspiration for my own project from these. As mentioned in my previous blog posts, I want to use vibrant colour palettes in a similar way to Wes Andersons films, which is a convention also often used in fashion photography including Horst’s work.


I would also like to play around with the distance between the camera and subject (close up, extreme close up), challenging what is usually a comfortable and flattering shot of models and creating an image that exposes natural ‘flaws’ in the face. This will also be exaggerated without the use of airbrushing tools on the skin.