Self-Portraits, a metaphor by another name

Self-portraits are a visual diary hidden in plain sight…

or so says me.  (Here is my 2013 self-portrait gallery.)

 (bryan farley)

The Oxford Dictionary chose “selfie” as the 2013 word of the year. A selfie is similar to a self-portrait, but a selfie is meant to be shared on social media. According to the Oxford Dictionary, selfies are usually taken with a smart phone or webcam and uploaded to a social media site. I take selfies, self-portraits and pictures of myself. Occasionally, I take a decent “self-picture,” but I rarely share the images. I almost never share my process. I am only doing so, because one of my photographer friends asked.

 (bryan farley)Most of my self-images can be placed into three categories — Reflections, Themed, and Awkward Self-Portraits (similar to Awkward Family Portraits). I am surprised when a photograph turns out decent, because I am an obstinate subject. Do you know the Pink song, “Don’t Let Me Get Me?” When I photograph myself, I feel as if I am singing that song to myself. As soon as I stop trying to take my picture, I can be friends with myself again. The photo above combines reflections and themes (and good composition.) I intentionally photographed half of my face and half of the model’s face. I noticed the construction area behind me. I wanted to say something to me about living up to standards of beauty and constantly trying to improve. In many of my self-portraits I intentionally photograph myself with a scruffy beard. Awkward is OK.

 (bryan farley)

photograph taken on December 30, 2013

While selfies might be recent, self-portraits existed before photography. (Square formats existed before Instagram.) Self-portraits also exist outside of photography. In 1970, Bob Dylan released his album titled Self-Portrait. Music critics, even those who admired Dylan, disliked Self-Portrait. The criticisms of Dylan’s Self-Portrait are common about many self-portraits. The album was as not as good as his earlier work. Self-Portrait, despite the title, did not seem like something Dylan would create.Listeners didn’t get it.

 (bryan farley)Self-portraits promise insight, but deliver a secret code. If a good portrait reveals something about a person’s past, present and future, what does a good self-portrait reveal? More importantly, who is the audience? For my self-images, I am my own audience. Why is “The Skulls” photo funny? If I explained all the pop culture references, you might find it funny. If I told you that this photo somehow connects to the Mr. Hand photo I took while teaching/learning the PhotoBooth application, would you guess the reference? How many layers would you know? Does it matter? This photo was not taken for you.


I learned how to use the PhotoBooth webcam application from my high school photography students. This was one of my earliest photos. It has a secret title, Mr. Hand, named after a famous pop culture teacher.

I am slowly learning “selfies.” I have taken a few decent cell phone and webcam pictures, but I am struggling with the square format. (I struggle with all the square formatting, not just selfies)

Bryan Farley selfies-030

Usually I forget to wear my contacts when I visit my hair stylist and I miss many photo opportunities, but on this day, I saw my reflection and the woman on the other side.

This selfie was one of the most popular pictures I posted on FaceBook this year. It is very funny, but it does not work for Instagram. How did Storm Thorgerson and all the other album cover designers create amazing square designs?

 (bryan farley)I take a bunch of “Awkward Self-Portraits.” Compared to my other awkward self-portraits, I seem relaxed. (My son was with me, which helps.) When I first started taking self-portraits, I could not help myself. I was awkward. Now, I refine my awkwardness. I do not need to be cool. Being awkward allows me to create space for my students and other people who need room to grow. Besides, I am a high school photography teacher with epilepsy. Awkward is better.

The 2013 Sharon's Ride.Run.Walk for Epilepsy was on Sunday, April 14, 2013 at De Anza Cove at Mission Bay Park in San Diego, California. The event benefits The Epilepsy Foundation of San Diego County. (bryan farley)I am less awkward around certain people. When I was at epilepsy events this year, I felt more comfortable to push boundaries and create space for other people. This “awkward” photo also fits the friendship theme. “When the road looks rough ahead…” we stick together. People with epilepsy must stick together. We must create space for each other. When I was younger, I worked at looking cool. That was fake too, but it looked “normal.” Sometimes, sticking together looks awkward, but it is necessary.

 (bryan farley)I am less awkward around my children and their friends. Last month, my son and I visited one of his best friends who had moved to Fresno. We took pictures together with another Toy Story character. My son does not really care if I am awkward or cool. My son needs me to love him. I NEED ME TO LOVE HIM, and I do.

 (bryan farley)

My daughter and I attended the Color Me Rad run this year. Messy.

Loving children almost always looks awkward… awkwardly beautiful some days and awkwardly messy on other days. There are more photos in this slideshow, including family self-photos with my family. (Sometimes I use a tri-pod and timer.) Perhaps I will add more photos to the slideshow later. I had also intended to discuss how Instagram has influenced the squaring of photography. Beware of the square?

Some people believe that everything we create is a self-portrait. Perhaps. Certainly, if you want to learn more about me, view or read something I create that is not about me.

2 Responses to “Self-Portraits, a metaphor by another name”

  1. Bryan Farley says:

    We should have taken a “self-portrait” together yesterday. I totally forgot!

  2. Bryan Farley says:

    Bradley Wilson and Mark Murray, I was thinking about both of you when I wrote about self-portraits, especially now that there are self-portrait contests. A couple years ago, I had considered using self-portraits as a way to teach composition. With cell phones and self-portraits, people accidentally compose pictures well. Photographers 1. get closer, 2. avoid the middle (before everyone previewed) 3 Framed, even if someone framed with their arms.