Experiments in Self Portraiture: Layers
Around the time I handed in my notice for my job, I was in a really weird headspace. Sessions with my last therapist had come to an end, I had an influx of creative energy I couldn’t channel anywhere, and I just felt like my brain was jumping between feelings faster than I could keep up with. It felt as though I was always navigating two opposite emotions simultaneously. Whether it was frustration and contentment, or sadness and happiness, I would wear the emotion that seemed favourable to the outside world, and do my best to suppress the the other. Leaving it to seethe under the surface.
I last worked on double-exposure portraits during my A Level Photography study. I remember setting the camera up on a slow shutter speed, releasing the timed shutter, running to get in position and then moving myself around, trying my best to time each pose evenly. Sometimes I didn’t have an idea for the shot in mind, and would just do whatever I felt like in the moment. Which could sometimes mean hurling myself around like a rag doll, hair flying everywhere, and doing my best to concern anyone catching a glimpse in the process.
Once I heard the shutter release, I’d race back around the tripod to see the camera’s screen, to review what I’d captured. Some worked, some didn’t, which was all part of the charm… But when I got the shot I was hoping for? It felt as though I was reaching levels of excellence akin to the first sip of ice cold lemonade on a sweltering day.
I have been wanting to put together something similar for this experimental portraiture series, and it didn’t take me long to realise that this was the fitting medium for capturing the duality of emotion I was experiencing.
These were shot in my bedroom in front of a white wall, with my camera balanced precariously on my bed. I wanted the focus to be solely on my face and the expressions I was making, so kept everything else minimal. Rather than edit in camera, I opted for putting together the images in Post. Each emotion was captured individually, edited in Lightroom, and then layered up in Photoshop. Here I toyed with different opacities, placement and arrangement of the layered images, and cropped if necessary. For one or two of the images, I implemented the clone tool to remove facial features where two noses or mouths didn’t look quite right. Before finishing up, I tried tinting some of the images to intensify some of the emotions; which seemed to work best with electric blue and red.
I didn’t go into the shoot with a list of emotions to capture, which meant I didn’t have polar opposites to layer up. From choosing to do this, I found the expressions to be far rawer than I expected them to be. Rather than appear performative, almost exaggerated and theatre-like, these images lifted the mask and revealed to me how I really felt; lost and hurt.