Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Portraits and Self Portraits

Posing in a tent at GlastersIn the coming year I may have to make a decision. To allow a portrait to be painted of me, or to create a self-portrait. Or neither, of course! Always good to have more than two choices.

To create a self-portrait has its problems, in terms of how well you knows yourself, and how honest you want to appear - including revealing the less pleasant side of yourself. And you need to convince yourself of the need for such a thing at all.

To tackle the first problem (of ego and vanity) - in show biz the self-conscious manipulation of image has its place as part of the job. It seems everyone's in show biz these days.

As an example, most of the photos I use as avatars, etc. I took myself with the ten-second timer on the camera. And that's not only selecting a location, and posing, but choosing, cropping and tweaking the picture - to attempt to create a look. I still do it to amuse, and as a form of self-expression, but they also remain masks to hide behind.

Word Pictures

The issue has arisen not in the world of visual images, however, but in the written word. I have made web-sites, written blogs, done online interviews, etc over the last decade, and they form a loose autobiographical project in themselves. Indeed, a journalist/Star Wars fan spent some time digging through that online material to compile a portrait to post on Wookipedia. That material has since migrated to Wikipedia, and although it amuses me I don't feel the right to edit the stuff (that really does smack of vanity). So it contains some errors, or misleading details, which I would attempt correct in my own version.


I have made drafts of a 'proper' autobiography intended to appear in book form (using Lulu, the print-on-demand system which avoids waste). I have set myself up on Lulu, and made various experiments, so I know how to make hard copies very cheaply. My Lulu storefront.

I still have trouble finding the right tone, although I enjoy unraveling memories, and meditating on my experiences. I don't know if I want to compile my anecdotes for film fans, or add to the history of New Circus, or offer my take on the changes made by my generation in The Sixties, the social history of the period, etc. I have tried thinking of it as something for my family, which would have to focus more on relationships, and reasons for making choices of various kinds. And that touches on the thorny issue of how to portray still-living people who have moved on in their lives. Do I track them down and ask them? Do I try to capture the world as I saw it then, or looking back ruefully? And so on.

An Outside Eye

Rich people used to commission portraits, and however carefully they selected and coached their artist, the final image and impression would always remain in the hands of the artist.

The issue of an objective portrait has arisen because someone has suggested writing a biography of me, involving plenty of research - interviewing old friends, co-workers, ex-lovers and all that, as well as extended interviews with me. Do I want to see myself as others see me? Relinquish control of the final image? I never think of myself as sufficiently interesting to appeal to a professional publisher - but if someone else sees a market, and can exploit it, then perhaps that adventure would prove amusing in itself.

I can see some advantages to passing all that work over to someone else. After all, I am unlikely to submit my own writing to much scrutiny from the other people in my adventures, even in the internet world that would take a lot of time tracking everyone down. It might prove very interesting to see the whole story from the outside, and with the perspectives of other people - although perhaps I won't like myself by the end.

The loss of control, and submitting to someone else's time-scale does have difficulties, though. Apart from anything else, I don't know how long the project would take, whereas self-publishing my own version allows me to get it out fast - if pushed - with the ability to carry on working on it, offering updates and later editions as I go along.

So, a portrait, or a self-portrait? I don't quite know how to decide.