The Photographer - self-portrait in black and white. ©Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.

Photographing One’s (Own) Self

Self-portraits can teach us a lot, especially for those of us, portrait and headshot photographers, and not only. Self-portraits help reveal who we are as creatives, and also as individuals. More often than not, photographers feel at home behind the camera. Place them in front of their own lens, and things can change, dramatically…or take an unusually artistic turn.

Quite a few photographers have reached celebrity status because of their self-portraits. For example, Cindy Sherman’s self-portraits were displayed at the Museum of Modern Arts in New York City. And Sherman is not the only one. Many photographers captured perhaps ‘versions’ of themselves, creating fine art photography work, activism art, and much more.

Journeys Through Darkness: A Biography. Cover design by Alina Oswald. Photo by Kurt Weston.

One of these photographers has been a mentor, an inspiration, an HIV and AIDS activist, and a dear friend for several years now. Award-winning, legally blind photographer Kurt Weston created a series of self-portraits through which to express his vision loss. Images from Weston’s Blind Vision series ( a collection of black-and-white self-portraits) have won awards and have been featured in various art galleries and museums across the country and around the world. For example, Losing the Light was featured in the 2006 VSA (Very Special Arts) show called Transformation, which opened in Washington, DC at the Kennedy Center of Performing Arts. Another self-portrait from the same series, Journey Through Darkness, is part of the AIDS Museum permanent collection.

As Weston explains in his biography, Journeys Through Darkness:

The Blind Vision series is only one of Weston’s works to capture an allegorical portrait of the visual artist as he traverses through his journey. In that sense, art becomes an amazing vehicle for Weston, allowing him to use his own life experiences to communicate, inspire, inform, and also to visually intrigue his audience. From his perspective, Kurt Weston considers art a means through which people can experience the nature of their humanity. Art can be silly and fun, and it can be entertaining. It can communicate a tremendous amount of information, emotion, and inspiration. In today’s society, consumed by superficial realities, Kurt Weston’s art goes beyond the physical realm of human existence and into a metaphysical dimension, connecting with the viewer on a more profound and spiritual level. 


Peering through the Darkness is part of Kurt Weston’s Blind Vision series of self-portraits that show people the physical and emotional impact that visual loss can have on an individual. In order to represent his visual disturbance, which he described like “pieces of cotton stuck in my eye, floating every time I move my eye,” he sprayed a glass with foaming glass cleaner and took a self-portrait sitting behind it. “You see my hand pushing away the foam, which is what I would love to do,” he explains, “I would like to be able to wipe away all that cotton that keeps floating in front of my eye and get a clear view of what I want to see out in the world.”

Weston believes that black-and-white offers his art a concentration of expression. And he likes that intensity, in particular in his portraits. He uses regular film and prints his images on silver gelatin paper so that they can last forever. He wants future generations to be able to look at this work and say, “This was happening at this time in history and this is the impact it left on people who’s lives it touched, this pandemic.”

Self-portraiture can be liberating. It frees one’s mind and allows the artist to be all that he/she can be in so many ways. It offers a deeper understanding (and hopefully appreciation) of what it takes to play a role in front, and also behind the camera.

So, what is a self-portrait?

A self-portrait is not a selfie. It’s not a quick snapshot. It is a portrait of oneself, an image in which the photographer is also the model, the subject of the photograph.

As any other portrait, a self-portrait can be:

* a headshot

Or as I call the above images…playing it nice. These are mostly test shots, best used as profile pictures mostly for social media. I believe it’s a good thing to have a variety of these sorts of shots for the many social networks one is or has to be active on these days.

The above images are mainly test shots, taken while waiting for clients to show up for photo shoots. I took these images using either two strip softboxes, one or two softboxes, and a seamless paper backdrop or a plain wall.

A self-portrait can also be:

* an environmental or editorial portrait

* a reflection

* a representation of one’s self that does not resemble the person at all

* Brocken Spectre (a self-portrait created with the help of Mother Nature, also called The Ghost of Brocken or an optical illusion; read more about it here)

Brocken Spectre. Haleakala, Maui, Hawaii. Photo by Alina Oswald.
Brocken Spectre. Haleakala, Maui, Hawaii. Photo by Alina Oswald.

* a persona the subject/photographer takes (becomes) in the photograph

Awaiting Sentencing. A Self-Portrait. Photo by Alina Oswald
Awaiting Sentencing. A Self-Portrait. Photo by Alina Oswald

* someone (or even something, a symbol of sorts) related to a particular theme: below, a Mardi Gras theme

Mask-arade. A Self-Portrait. Photo by Alina Oswald.
Mask-arade. A Self-Portrait. Photo by Alina Oswald.

* a facet of one’s personality, mood, feeling, etc.

* a symbol for a cause…maybe this could be part of an editorial

The above images are a few years apart. The ACT-UP bracelet on my hand, well,  some might consider it a self-portrait. The other image, Half-Faces, is a self-portrait taken with my favorite activist bear, Dab the AIDS Bear. (And yes, I was Ambassador of Hope several years ago.)

A self-portrait can blur the barriers between reality and fantasy. It helps us explore and experiment, offering (almost) limitless possibilities.

As always, thanks for stopping by!

Alina Oswald

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