Welcome to Photo Focus, where I examine a single photograph. These short essay’s will give a greater insight into the individual image beyond its context within a group of photographs. Furthermore, this is inspired by an idea a professor of mine always discussed in graduate school. He would talk about what about the photograph brought the viewer in and kept his or her attention. I will discuss what draws me to the photograph as well as, give a description of the photograph, a formal analysis, and discuss the meaning of the photograph.
Self-portraits have been a part of photography from its invention. Photographers sometimes use themselves as models when they are the only person around or because they are sharing the intimate details of their lives. Sometimes a self-portrait is obvious, while at other times the body might be obscured. This week’s Photo Focus looks at a self-portrait by Pablo Bartholomew. Through a close observation and formal analysis of the photograph the viewer can get a better understanding of the meaning behind the image and it is this information that I will provide here.
Pablo Bartholomew’s self-portrait is a black and white photograph. In many ways, it is a simple photograph as the image is uncluttered. There is a table centered in the foreground and this table provides the depth to the photograph. On the left side foreground of the table lays a cigarette packet and a watch. To the right of these items is a small rectangular box with a checkered pattern on half of it. Behind the box and to the right is a pitcher. Centered in the middle of the table and in the background is a clear, textured glass. Behind the glass is a mirror which is centered in the table and the frame of the photograph. In the mirror we see the reflection of the photographer’s torso. The photographer’s arms are holding the camera up to his face. The lower half of his torso is covered by a dinning chair. The right side of the table is cluttered with a note pad, papers, ashtray, writing implement, lens cap, and a wallet. To either side of the table there is a chair. Both chairs face the wall so that the viewer of the photograph sees the back of the backrest. The wall behind the scene is void of decoration except in the top center where there is the bottom half of a light fixture. This bulb is providing the light for the scene and gives the photograph a vignette.
The most obvious and striking element of design in this photograph is the play between symmetry and asymmetry. The larger elements of the photograph have been composed symmetrically down a vertical axis in the center of the frame. The table is centered, the mirror is centered, the light fixture is centered and the chairs on either side of the table are spaced identically with the edges of the frame. However, the objects on the table are somewhat haphazardly placed causing a disruption to the symmetry. Furthermore, the photographer’s body is not centered either. His reflection is more to the left in the mirror and in the left side of the reflection there appears to be the edge or a door frame. These elements create an asymmetry to the photograph.
The subject of the photograph is the photographer and his objects. Thus this photograph is telling us something about the photographer’s life or thoughts, or emotional state. To me the room feels like a hotel room, however, it could be his house or a house. Furthermore, the overall feeling of the photograph is a small ordered chaos. The larger items in the photograph are organized symmetrically and seem to have a placed, which can be understood to mean that the larger more overall aspects of the photographer’s life appear to be in order. However, the smaller more personal items are scattered across the table. This could be understood as the photographer being less ordered in his personal life or as an expression of depression. Interestingly, the watch and cigarette packet seem to have been placed purposefully in the left hand corner of the table. Perhaps it is these items that give purpose to his life. In addition, the photographer did not show us his body but a reflection of it. With a photograph of the body, the body is already once removed, so through the reflection it is twice removed. This can be interpreted as having body issues or low self-esteem or he could be down playing his body so that the other objects in the frame become more visible. Thus the objects are more important to his existence than the look of his body.
This self-portrait of Pablo Bartholomew is complex; it shows some of the intimate details of his life. He has shown us the table where he appears to do some work. There could be a whole psycho-analysis of this photograph and its meaning, but I have just provided a small glimpse into those possibilities here. Some people have completely ordered lives and some people have completely chaotic live, while everyone else lives somewhere in between order and chaos. Bartholomew fits into this last category. A self-portrait is always an interesting image because it gives the view more insight into who the artist is, especially if they usually create art about subjects other than themselves.