A question of vanity and photography

Note to readers: This post may fail to come across as the intelligent, artistic debate that it’s intended to be. It may instead simply appear utterly narcissistic – but this is not my intention, honest! 

At one point while at Greenbelt, I emerged from my tent to find my friends holding a camera up and taking self portraits. When I asked what on earth they were up to, the reply came: “We’re doing a Liz”

A couple of years ago, on our second Girls’ Weekend Away, one of my friends spotted me posing for the camera in the back of the car. She found it fantastically amusing – especially when she observed me doing the same thing on later occasions.  I think at Greenbelt the girls had spotted me taking a photo and were inspired to emulate me – albeit in a mick-taking fashion. (What they didn’t seem to understand is that self-portraiture is an excellent means of checking one’s looks when in a camping situation.)

(With apologies to Matt & Ruth – you took yours landscape, so I had to crop you!) 

Is it vanity to take self-portraits? I don’t think so – I look at it more as a specific photographic art-form and an excellent way of chronicling adventures and the moving-on of time. And, to be honest, it’s only since the dawn of digital photography that it’s become easy to do it.

For example, there’s the issue of travelling solo to interesting places – how else can you document your presence?

Of course, you’ll immediately spot the problem with these photos. As travelling mementos they don’t really show the place travelled to – with the exception of bottom right (last week’s trip to the Giant’s Causeway) in which the rocks might give it away. The other three are, from top left: JFK Plaza in Philadelphia; beneath the Abraham Lincoln Memorial in DC; and in Central Park – but really, could be almost anywhere! [I should mention that in sorting out photos I found some that featured actual landmarks, but only four and I looked awful in all of them.]

A couple of years ago I discovered a very poignant use of self-portraits. Stephanie of NieNie Dialogues took regular shots of herself (and much more original ones than my own) in which she documented her family, home and love of fashion. When she was seriously injured in an air crash two years ago these photos provided solace for her four children. Now they remind her of the way life used to be, before her appearance changed dramatically. For months after she began blogging again no photos of the ‘new’ Nie appeared, until almost a year after the crash, when the first self-portrait was posted. These days they’re commonplace and show the way in which she’s gradually coming to terms with the second chance she’s been given at life. To be perfectly honest, I cried when that first photo appeared and am still humbled on a regular basis by her strength and the way in which she battles at overcoming her feelings of loss towards the way she used to look.

Now, I’m not saying that my own vain exploits are as worthy, but I do like the way in which you can document your life – through changing hairstyles/colours, to clothing choices, seasons and thinning faces. Looking through old photo albums tonight I couldn’t find any earlier than my NZ holiday in 2008, but it does appear that the frequency has increased in recent months.

So, here’s 2008-10 in self-portraiture:

GWA 08; shorter haircut; the ‘scary’ photo; shortest haircut; wet walk; Greenbelt 09; Sian’s hen; another haircut; a wedding; a rope swing; a pub toilet; fun at home; new clothes; 29th birthday am & pm; yet another haircut & birthday karaoke; Liz ‘doing a Liz’; hilarity; and finally, this evening.


  1. Viewed en mass gives a viewer the bizarre, (and slightly leer-y) feeling of being about 8ft tall and closer than general British personal space standards designate for acquaintances..

    You have a vanity tag 🙂

  2. Thanks Phil! This may have been a post I slightly regretted the morning after…

    And incidentally, the vanity tag is there from previous contemplation of this question. 🙂

  3. I saw. And I eagerly wait tagged all seven of the deadlies :P.

    I mean my comment more as a possible beginning for discussion for this typology of photography: the arm’s length self-portrait. I am very rarely involved with that proximity of intimacy with many, even friends. So close that the elements of the face are cast into perspective, typically exaggerating the eyes-fringe-forehead. The issue of height, and the relative position such photos, put their viewer in is also interesting. Exacerbated by using a colocated point flash, gives the impression that we are viewing you at the bottom of a well.

    In this we could also awkwardly posed embracing double portraits, and the peace sign.. all strange contrivances for this mode of imaging.


  4. I’m surprised I haven’t already tagged sloth & gluttony!

    You make interesting points – as ever – and from Dubai, I noticed!!

    The woman I mentioned in the post was quite good at self-portraits that didn’t look like self-portraits. And incidentally, I only in this post used ones that had been taken in the same manner. There are others taken in a variety of ways – the use of mirrors being a key one…

    I did notice while playing with a DSLR last week that such shots are near impossible to do with one.

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