Sam Taylor Johnson – Photography/Artist Research
Fig 1. Sam Taylor Johnson. Self Portrait Suspended. 2004
This week I have been looking at artists and photographers who use themselves in their work. Sam Taylor Johnson is one example in which she uses herself as a performer for her conceptual work. Johnson works in photography and film and is known for her interpretations of exploring the self. Her most recent directly film works include the blockbuster feature ‘Fifty Shades of grey’ released in 2015 following the phenomenon of the book publications by E.L. James. Her success in the visual film and photographic industry is globally recognised and she has exhibited across the world. In 1998, Johnson was nominated for the Turner Prize for ‘Most Promising Young Artist’. A particular selection of photography which I find inspiring for my project is her series ‘Self Portrait Suspended (2004) and ‘Bram Stoker’s Chair’ (2005). Both series are very similar with the photographer as the subject performing various elegant poses while being suspended in the air. Set in an ambient lit windowed room, ‘Self Portrait Suspended’ focuses on the performer alone. Johnson’s movements are very free and brings a sense of reflection in how she changes her posture throughout the photographs as if she is experiencing a personal cycle. Her images from ‘Bram Stoker’s Chair’ is also very poetic, however in this series, she uses an object as something to support her poses. Johnson also involves her own shadow in the images, creating an interactive connection that is somewhat more playful. This particular image ‘Chair XII’ reminds me of the Peter Pan story as it almost expresses a sense of fantasy with how her pose and how she is looking directly at her shadow almost brings across a sense of curiosity.
Fig 2. Sam Taylor Johnson. Bram Stoker’s Chair. 2005
I feel this impacts the way I am thinking for my own project as it produces a similar idea where the photographer is reflecting on themselves and reveals their identity to the audience. I feel Johnson’s identity is actually almost hidden in both series of works as her face is never fully revealed to the viewer. I find this interesting because the viewer can see her physically but the viewer cannot see her as a character which more or less makes her anonymous.
When preparing the order in which the portraits will be placed within the images to create the final image, I have decided to layer them in two different ways. One way is which the final image representing my identity on the ‘outside’ can show positive character while the portraits held within the image (which I hold myself) will show more sensitive/negative character traits revealing my ‘inside’ character.
All Original Images
During post production, I used Photoshop tools including hue/saturation and curves to adjust the exposure of the final image and to remove colour.
During the editing process, I found it difficult to balance the exposure between the picture held in the image against the image itself as these props had previously been edited. However, I do find this attracts the eye to the image held considering that my intention is to recognise both images equally.
As I am creating a complex final image for this experiment, I have decided to use a simple plain background with a monochrome colour scheme. As the layers of images expand within the whole final image itself, I reveal more of myself.
Fig 3. Happy. 2015
This image (see above) portrays my ‘happy go lucky’ character. I feel this is one of the stronger character portraits as the expression appears very alive with how my eyes are focused on a certain point. I wanted to make this ‘inner layer’ portrait appear as if I were interacting with myself on the outer layer portrait to establish the personal connection a human being has with themselves.
Fig4. Sad. 2015
This second image portrays my ‘sensitive’ character. I feel the pose in this is nice, however, there is not a lot of expressive aspects so I feel this is weaker than my other ‘inner layer’ portraits.
Fig 5. Fear. 2015
I feel this portrait is the most playful of all my ‘inner portrait’ selections. Here I decided to do a hidden pose where I am partially covering my face. I wanted to try bringing across a character that is somewhere in-between sensitive and confident; as if I am coming out of my shell. I would consider this image as an in-between layer if I were to do a three way image layer series so to show development of the character from inside to outside and vice versa.
Fig 6. Self Identity-Picture within a picture. 2015
This is the final image I have completed for this short project. I found the image would appear simpler as a two way ‘portrait within a portrait’ as I think further layers may have over complicated the purpose of representing the differences between different human characters. I settled on having the positive portrait as the ‘inner layer’ image and the sensitive portrait as the ‘outer layer’ portrait; I feel the ‘outer layer’ portrait of myself holding my ‘inner character’ portrait presents a fragile personality that brings an emotional touch to the image. I think the final image works better this way than if the layers were to be placed in the opposite order because I feel the personal aspect of the idea is brought across more strongly.
Sam Taylor Johnson (2013) Sam Taylor-Johnson, [Online] Available from http://www.samtaylorjohnson.com/photography/art/ [Accessed on 08/10/2015]