Diana Self Portraits


(This portfolio is an example of early work, 1980-1981) "Photographs accomplish their task perfectly: programming society to act as though under a magic spell for the benefit of cameras."
Vilém Flusser


In response to recent strong criticism of the medium, especially Susan Sontog’s On Photography, I began to study how people encounter the camera. I set out on a yearlong journey traveling through the United States asking people to take their own picture. I handed each a plastic toy camera (the Diana). I took note of their response and of what they said.
In Sontag’s evaluation, photography is violent. She called it “a soft murder” supposing that it violates people “by seeing them as they never see themselves”. She thinks photography is so easy that anyone can do it. Most damaging to traditional sensibilities, she would consider it ludicrous in postmodern time to look for transcendent qualities in a photograph.
I was devastated on reading Sontag. I thought, if photography is evil and photographers are exploitive, I don’t want to be one. I needed to discover for myself how people feel about what a camera does. Self-portrait methodology seemed like a logical alternative to candid street photography and a natural outgrowth of my use of photography as autobiography and self-encounter. The work combined a psychological and a visual sensitivity to the outer and inner appearance of the person and the scene of the encounter.
Asking someone to take his or her own picture seems to be an intimate question. Perhaps it is seen as an invitation to look at oneself and to ask what sort of
person am I? The most striking result of this exploration was clearly the candidness with which people took their photograph as well as the revealing things they said in response to the question, “will you take your picture?”
Although I encountered a variety of responses, most people took their picture with a willing friendliness. The plastic toy camera seemed to be more like a mirror than a violator of the self. In conclusion, it seems to me that most people, even children, have an idea of themselves as a photograph.
Sontag called photography “the most facile of the mimetic arts” – photographers shooters and photographs records, documents, decisive moments, lucky accidents, expressions and interpretations. I see photography as a journey, the making of a picture an encounter that matters, and its value in the heart of the viewer of the photograph.