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365 Ways to Look at a Self-Portrait

The 365 Days project is a group of people dedicated to making one photographic self-portrait every day for a year.  Although I usually don’t pay attention to snapshot photography, the photos are posted at Flickr and now comprise an archive of 980,819 photos by roughly 18,000 people.  One way or another, this trove is a resource for thinking about how ordinary people use photography as a way of developing their own capacity of self-expression.  The photographs often are both personal and public, artistic and conventional, evocative and alienating, and otherwise both thoroughly familiar and yet uncanny.  And for better or worse, each has something to say about what it means to be a person.

David Sutton face

This self-portrait was taken by David Sutton, a friend whose daily pics brought the project to my attention.  David is a professional photographer and so perhaps not the best example of the group for that.  Nonetheless, I was surprised to see how much his images exposed dimensions of his inner world that weren’t obvious amidst the banter of our conversations in an Evanston coffee shop.  The camera becomes a confidante, and then puts the public into not that role but something like it.

David Sutton eye

And so one might learn more than one wishes to know, particularly as the days go by and the photographer is pushed to experiment.  This image may reveal much more about David’s aesthetic background than his personality–although we can’t be sure about that–and thus the shift into the more artistic mode reveals another dimension of portraiture, which is an exploration of both social types and the realm of the inchoate that necessarily accompanies categorization without and within.

That possibility of seeing what lurks within and between the many mundane images of everyday people may be the surest appeal, and value, of 365 Days.  So it is that when looking for the image of a person, it may not matter at all who is in the picture.

latent image face

David Sutton is a working photographer with a studio in Evanston, Il.  The third photograph is from latent_image at Flickr.


365 Ways to Look at a Self-Portrait


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