3. Blog

1. self portrait, early 1990s

This page is constructed from my early thoughts on the assignment, the diary entries and the blog that the diary became.

This is that alternatively-constructed diary.


first thoughts — The self portraits I admire most are those by John Coplans and Lee Friedlander, especially the former. I would not be surprised if one or the other influences this assignment.


Another idea is to imitate other s-ps by photographers. I am leaning towards what I have characterised as the male tendency in s-ps. [12Jul20] my thoughts on a gender disparity on approaches to self portraits are explores in the zine.]

Also, I happen to be listening to Ted Simon’s Jupiter’s Travels on audiobook at the moment. A relevant passage cropped up today,

In the oval, engraved mirror of a colonial dining car I actually take notice of my face for the first time in a long while. Action has freed me from self-consciousness and I am becoming a stranger to my own appearance. It is a very satisfying feeling. I no longer think of people seeing me as I see myself in a mirror. Instead, I imagine that people can see directly into my soul. It is as though a screen between me and the world has dropped away.

Ted Simon , Jupiter’s Travels, Chapter 4

23Feb20 – Catchup

The Coplans option was used up on Asg.1, leaving the intention to imitate other s-ps.

The initial candidates:

Manuel Álvarez Bravo
2. Manuel Álvarez Bravo, self portrait
3. Bill Brandt, self portrait (see below)
4. Stanley Kubrick, self portrait, 1949
© the artists, their agents or their estates

I am on the lookout for a large restaurant or bar mirror for a Kubrick (fig. 4) with a fallback position of using the bedroom.

The Álvarez Bravo (fig. 2) shouldn’t be difficult to imitate.

The Bill Brandt (fig. 3) , which I took to be a s-p is in fact a 1945 portrait by Laelia Goehr, but I still intend to imitate it. I had done some research on the camera in shot and found one on sale at antiq-photo.com [1], a French dealer who kindly sent me a set of (relatively) hi-res images from the sale. Some manipulation produced a usable image which was printed at 12″ and 16″ square with my Asg.1 shots (these were sent for printing on around 20th January). I think the 12″ will work.

On Feb 16th I became aware of Richard Avedon’s 1964 self portrait in which his face is half-masked by a portrait of James Baldwin (fig. 5) [2]. I bought a Jeremy Corbyn face mark on 17th Feb (£1.95 on ebay); Keir Starmer has sent me some leadership election material that includes a handsome B&W head shot; and I might get a print of another Avedon S-P (fig. 6) for this purpose when I print Asg.2.

Richard Avedon's 1964 self portrait
5. Richard Avedon self-portrait with James Baldwin, 1964
6. Avedon self-portrait,
© the artists, their agents or their estates

And here’s a site, found while looking for a decent copy of the Avedon,Top 10 Black and White Self Portraits by Famous Photographers [3]. I like the Ronis and Maier is possible. The Feininger is not a SP. And check out Daniel Castonguay on the same site – the nicest images I have seen in a long while.


Damn! I sent Asg.2 for printing yesterday and failed to include an Avedon s-p. The printing quality is not critical as the mask should be out of focus if it is to be an accurate recreation of the original, so my inkjet might do.

Coronavirus restrictions are in place for decrepit oldies such as the writer so this assignment will be photographed indoors.

The current prospects are Avedon (after fig. 5), Brandt (fig. 3), Álvarez Bravo (fig. 2), Kubrick (fig. 4) and Ronis (fig. 7).

Incidentally, the greatest self portrait of all time (and one of the greatest photographs period) is Ilse Bing’s of 1931 (fig. 8), but I recreated that for exercise 5.2 in EyV (fig. 9).

Autoportrait aux flashes
7. Willy Ronis, Autoportrait aux flashes, 1951
8. Ilse Bing, Self portrait with Leica, 1931
9. Nick Blackburn (i.e. me) self portrait with Fuji after Ilse Bing, 2019 (created for an EyV exercise)
© the artists, their agents or their estates

[12Jul2] This is where the blog meets the diary so some overlap of dates and contents occurs.


I consciously took a more organised approach to the assignments in C&N, having concluded that their completion and submission is the key to completing the course. Accordingly, I have pencilled-in possible approaches to each of them from the outset.

For self-portraiture, my to initial ideas were:
1, to be strongly influenced by John Coplans, but I have already used this in Asg.1,
2. To recreate some of the SPs of some well-known photographers shown on my page. I will go with this idea, Those already identified are Bill Brandt with his police camera (as it turns out, this was not a SP, but never mind; Stanley Kubrick’s youthful study using a large mirror; Álvarez Bravo’s self-effacing SP. To this can be added Avedon’s photo booth image and I’ll find a few others.

The assignment brief calls for a two-week diary to be kept as a starting point for this project. I will have to cheat on this instruction and reconstruct a retrospective, episodic diary showing how this idea developed.

[21Mar] conceptual development transferred to the diary page until today, when the first photography took place.

21st March, after Stanley Kubrick

I have not used the Fuji 100S for a while. 20 shots taken, some on (what I still call) motor drive, all of 3fps on the Fuji and some on 3 shot 1 stop bracket. At first sitting on the bed then, to get closer, sitting on a chair squeezed between the bed and the mirror. All on f/2 to de-emphasise the background. Shot in colour but only because I didn’t think to switch on mono.

Stanley Kubrick
10. Stanley Kubrick, self portrait, 1949 (repeat of fig. 4)
11, 13, 14. s-p after Kubrick 21st March
12. Vivian Maier, self portrait, n.d.
© the artists, their agents or their estates

My first outcome, fig.11, created from the last three shots HDR’ed in Affinity is rather good, although it made me think of Vivian Maier rather than Stanley Kubrick. Having added a Maier above (fig. 12) , I’m not sure why that was the case. There is a great gallery of Maier self portraits here: [4] she really was terrific.

I’ll run another shoot and — shave; straighten my tie; have the chair further from the mirror to get more in and to get the camera in focus too; take the picture down; maybe close the door – or perhaps not that last. And consider adding something interesting and distracting in the background (the cat was snoozing on the bed but, for once, did not join in).

Final conclusion of the day – continue to bracket.

22nd March, after Manuel Álvarez Bravo

I had always thought that fig. 15 was the full image. It was only when I looked fro a copy to print and take up the garden to shoot from this morning that I realised the full original was as fig. 16. No matter, I stayed with the original plan of putting a mirror in the window of the garden shed and imitating the crop. The image of me is less clear than anticipated because the window is dirtier than Álvarez Bravo’s, but I quite like the effect and may stick on this version – if I cleaned it, the spider web would have to go.

Manuel Álvarez Bravo
15, 16. Manuel Álvarez Bravo, self portrait, n.d. (repeat of fig. 2)
17-21. s-p after Álvarez Bravo, 22nd March
© the artists, their agents or their estates

Fig. 17 is a full frame 3-shot HDR bracket from B&W.
18 is a crop of 17.
19 and 20 are crops from single, RAW, colour images.
21, later that day, after further nurdling in Affinity (HDR) and Photoshop (Nik). That’s the keeper.

Theoretical considerations

Let’s take a moment away from the practicalities of taking these photographs and consider the act of self-portraiture and in particular the issue of authorship.

Bright and van Erp (2019, pp. 149-152) [5] deal with self-portraiture largely in the context of the contemporary social media selfie, usually taken in conformance with (gradually evolving) norms in order to gain acceptance and recognition within a group. This is contrasted with the ‘traditional self-portrait’ which was (and is) often made to establish or emphasise individuality.

Fig. 22 Outside Myself (Monument Valley), 1994, Tracey Emin

The example of Tracey Emin’s Outside Myself (Monument Valley), fig. 22, is considered.

In 1994 Emin, accompanied by her then boyfriend Carl Freedman, drove from San Francisco to New York, stopping to read from her book Exploration of the Soul which she delivered from an armchair taken for that purpose (Emin inherited the chair from her grandmother and had decorated it with sayings they shared and other text). The photograph is of one of those readings and it was taken by Freedman.

One of the points Bright and van Erp explore (p.152) is authorship and they conclude,

In many instances it does not matter who pressed the button, as it is the artist who has conceived the idea, and to whom credit must thus be given

 Bright and van Erp , p.152 [5]

The same consideration applies to some of Cindy Sherman’s Untitled Film Stills, where friends photographed the outdoors shots (MoMA [6]). Questions of authorship might also apply to the Bill Brandt image (fig. 3) where, although the portrait (that I originally mistook for a mirror self-portrait) is attributed to the photographer Laelia Goehr, the conception could have been Brandt’s.

I wanted to address this point, knowing that I would be shooting after Brandt the next day and anticipating (incorrectly, as it turned out) that I would not be pressing the shutter.

26th March, after Bill Brandt

Readers may recall that I ordered square prints of several sizes of a doctored image (sourced from a French dealer) of Bill Brandt’s police camera when printing Asg.1. The 12×12 print was stuck to cardboard yesterday and deployed today.

I used the Canon G5X because it has a reversible screen for selfies, nevertheless, although I managed to get the hands the right way round, I was looking in the wrong direction. No matter.

I assumed that I would feature Mrs. B on shutter control (hence the discussion of authorship), but I made do with the 10 second delay timer on the triple shot setting.

Bill Brandt
23. Bill Brandt, portrait by Laelia Goehr, 1945 (repeat of fig. 3)
24-26. s-p after Brandt, 26th March
© the artists, their agents or their estates

The first takes on the JPGs look quite successful with an application of Nik Silver Efex filters and then the colour filter for the grain and border. I think fig. 25, but a little lighter might run. And try for some eye detail.

The high-contrast, grainy look is intended to echo some of Brandt’s later work. I notice one cardboard edge is visible on the ‘camera’: I could claim that this is intentionally deconstructionist but that would not be accurate.

Fig27, s-p after Brandt, 26th March, fig. 25 reworked

[27Mar] I have reworked fig. 25 from Raw and disguised the cardboard edge. That will do for now. I believe it is the best of the three efforts so far (Kubrick, Bravo and Brandt). I would still like to brighten the eyes, though. Here’s a lesson an eye brightening (Patterson [7])

30th March, after Avedon & Kubrick

The Corbyn mask was too big: I could have scanned and reduced it, but just went with Starmer (fig. 32) and Avedon (fig. 31). It is difficult to take a photograph with just the right amount of lack of focus – I should have taken it in focus and then adjusted in post-processing. Nevertheless, they were pretty successful
I reshot after Kubrick (fig. 34) paying more attention to the background – a Missing Mondrian and accessorised De Stijl tie.

28-29. Preparations, 30th March
30. Richard Avedon self-portrait with James Baldwin, 1964
31. s-p with Richard Avedon after Avedon, 30th March
32 s-p with Keir Starmer after Avedon, 30th March
33. Stanley Kubrick, self portrait, 1949 (repeat of fig. 4)
34. s-p after Kubrick, 30th March
© the artists, their agents or their estates


[3Apr] I had my Asg.2 tutorial this morning and this reminded be that I should be putting more thought and research into these assignments. The comments above on Bright & van Erp, Emin, Sherman and Brandt go a considerable way to justify and contextualise my approach to the assignment, but I would like to broaden my consideration to what might have been.

I have already mentioned Vivian Maier as a possible target. I took down Sylvie Weil’s idiosyncratic Selfies [8] from the bookshelf (fig. 35) and found one of Maier’s finest S-Ps on the cover (fig. 36). Weil writes (in the Ros Schwarz translation),

She must have ‘cheated’ a little, and the photo is probably less spontaneous than it appears; the photographer must have asked the man to stand still for a moment…
I would have photographed myself standing in front of a large mirror being carried by two men wearing caps, seen in profile,

Sylvie Weil, Self-portraits in fugitive mirrors, Selfies, 2019, p.127-8

That led me to think of any number of silent films and subsequent comedies using the motif of two men with a large sheet of glass and the Harry Worth sketch in a shop window (fig. 37)

35. Sylvie Weil Selfies
36. Vivian Maier Self-Portrait, 1955
37. The Harry Worth Show, BBC TV, 1960s
© the artists, their agents or their estates

Given today’s tutorial and the discussions on security cameras, a modern take on this would be a selfie on a security screen – Lidl’s in Bromley have recently installed quite large monitor screens on each self-checkout till and they would be ideal for this purpose. This raises the question,

I wonder how long we students will be able to deploy the excuse, ‘well that’s what I would have photographed, were it not for virus restrictions’. I am currently in debt to the tune of one shot of the Crown Jewels for Asg.2 and now one shot on the security cameras in Lidl’s Bromley for Asg.3.

[14May20 see rework]

5th April, after Manuel Álvarez Bravo

Reshot in two sessions today after cleaning the window (well, rearranging the muck, really). Early when the window was still wet and again later. Bracketed both times. The last two without the mirror in place.

Manuel Álvarez Bravo
38. Manuel Álvarez Bravo, self portrait, n.d. (repeat of fig. 2)
39-44. s-p after Álvarez Bravo, 22nd March
© the artists, their agents or their estates

I am still not particularly satisfied with the outcome in terms of the clarity of the reflection, though they are better than the first round. A second clean might be needed and wait for it to dry. Use the mirror.


[5Apr] Thoughts have turned to presentation and I will gather them here. The instructions say, ‘[s]end your finished piece’, perhaps implying a single image. That will not do. I might pick a single one as the best of the bunch (criteria?), but they are all going in in some form. I have been toying with the idea of a collage and played with one today for the source images. I have included the Bing (which I homaged in EyV) as no collection of S-Ps can stand without it and perhaps I should have included a Maier too as that will by the (sort of) inspiration for my eventual rework, shop window => shop security camera for the current age (note to self, Maier took one in a security mirror – I have it to hand and will work it in – [6Apr] now shown as figs. 46 and 47 – it was on show at the Huxley-Parlour Gallery in Piccadilly last year). [14May20 see rework]
Photoshop Elements offer an easy, albeit somewhat cheesy, collage (I used it for part of an EyV submission) and here it is as fig. 45.

Sources, collage.
45. Sources, collage.
46-47. Vivian Maier, Self-Portrait, 1961 and detail
© the artists, their agents or their estates

8th and 9th April, after Willy Ronis

It will take a few sessions to get this right. The basic idea is there but framing the shot in darkness is tricky and I think I need a reflector to even the lighting. Nevertheless it was quite fun.

None of tonight’s shots will make the cut, but I include examples as a reference point. The final versions will, of course, be B&W.

Autoportrait aux flashes
48. Willy Ronis, Autoportrait aux flashes, 1951 (repeat of fig. 7)
49. s-p After Willy Ronis, 8th April, full frame
50. s-p After Willy Ronis, 8th April, after processing
51. s-p After Willy Ronis, 9th April, daylight test setup
52. s-p After Willy Ronis, 9th April, selected, processed
© the artists, their agents or their estates

[10Apr] I had a quick look at the send night’s shots last night and did not think much of them but changed my mind when processing them today. The high ceiling and small sensor (the Canon G5X is the only camera I have a flash cable for) and an aperture of f/7 resulted in an ISO of 10,000 and a pleasing overlay of digital ‘grain’.

10th April, after Manuel Álvarez Bravo

[10Apr] I washed the window again, inside and out, and chose the largest camera body to hand. These are much better.

Manuel Álvarez Bravo
53. Manuel Álvarez Bravo, self portrait, n.d. (repeat of fig. 2)
54. s-p after Álvarez Bravo, 10th April
55. Shadow s-p after Maier, 10th April
© the artists, their agents or their estates

I had forgotten what a pleasant camera to use a Nikon DLSR is and so took it on today’s walk. I found an ‘after Maier’ shadow (I photographed the feather, then noticed the shadow and zoomed out again to take that) which will do until I can get the security device shot promised for the Corona Image Deficit.

I think my work here is done.

Presentation II

[11Apr] This is due in at the end of April. We are currently in Coronavirus lockdown, so I’m not sure what assignment delivery options will be operative then: let’s assume everything will be done online for the foreseeable future — I have been sending physical prints since early EvY so there is a retrograde learning curve to be followed and inserted here.

I intend to print Asg.3 as though it were to be submitted thus in the hope that we will be back to physical prints by the time of final assessment. I’m not clear either on whether the submission is supposed to be one image or several , but here’s my plan:

  • In addition to the submission text, write a project introduction, including mention of the temporary delivery arrangements, where I sourced the technical requirements and a reference to Bing.
  • Mention the Corona Image Deficit but state that the project is regarded as complete and can stand on its own merits.
  • As with Asg.2, there will be a header image, probably fig. J1, but it would be my Bing, fig. 62, EyV Exc. 5.2 if that were not self plagiarism.
  • The submission text, 300 words
  • My copy of Laelia Goehr’s 1945 portrait of Bill Brandt, as (entirely subjectively) the most successful outcome, fig. 63.
  • The others, figs. 64-68.
  • A pdf of this development page
  • Mention of and links to the matters arising from Asg.2, i.e. rework and essays, but I will not bother to send those as the equivalents were not mentioned in the last tutorial.
  • All the new images below (J60-61, 63-68) will be printed for the final assessment.
Asg 3
60. Summary of source material
61. Summary of outcomes
62. from EyV Exc. 5.2, Self portrait with Fuji after Ilse Bing, July 2019, image ref. EyV#67
63. self portrait after Laelia Goehr’s 1945 portrait of Bill Brandt, March 2020
64. self portrait after undated Manuel Álvarez Bravo self portrait, April 2020
65. self portrait after 1949 Stanley Kubrick, self portrait, March 2020
66. self portrait after Willy Ronis, ‘Autoportrait aux flashes’, 1951, April 2020
67. self portrait after unspecified Vivian Maier shadow self portrait, April 2020
68. self portrait with Keir Starmer after Richard Avedon’s ‘self-portrait with James Baldwin’, 1964, March 2020

Assessment criteria & Reflection

These are covered in the zine.


1. antiq-photo.com (2020) Wide angle KODAK View Camera / Bill Brandt [online]. antiq-photo.com. Available from https://www.antiq-photo.com/en/collections/museum/cameras/large-format-cameras/wide-angle-kodak-view-camera-bill-brandt/ [Accessed 23 February 2020].

2. Thrasher, S.W. (2017) James Baldwin and Richard Avedon’s divided states [online]. theguardian.com. Available from https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/nov/16/baldwin-nothing-personal?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other [Accessed 23 February 2020].

3. monovisions.com (2015) Top 10 Black and White Self Portraits by Famous Photographers [online]. monovisions.com. Available from https://monovisions.com/top-10-black-and-white-self-portraits-by-famous-photographers/ [Accessed 23 February 2020].

4. vivianmaier.com (2020) Vivian Maier [online]. vivianmaier.com. Available from. http://www.vivianmaier.com/gallery/self-portraits/ [Accessed 12 July 2020].

5. Bright, S. & van Erp, H (2019) Photography decoded. London: Ilex.

6. MoMA (n.d.) Untitled Film Still #21 [online]. moma.org. Available from https://www.moma.org/learn/moma_learning/cindy-sherman-untitled-film-stills-1977-80/ [Accessed 26 March 2020].

7. Patterson, S. (n.d.) How To Lighten And Brighten Eyes With Photoshop CC And CS6 [online]. photoshopessentials.com. Available from https://www.photoshopessentials.com/photo-editing/lighten-brighten-eyes-photoshop/ [Accessed 27 March 2020].

8. Weil, S. (2015) Selfies. Translated by R. Schwarz, 2019. London: Les Fugitives.