John – a self portrait

John comes to the ‘Echoes Group’ with his wife and as a full time carer. He seemed particularly keen when he found out that the project was going to be about photography – he was an active photographer and still has a Nikon FE which he was keen to bring in. The first ‘memory’ he worked on was of his wife – and very touching I think it will be, but I decided to buy him a roll of XP2 so that he could ‘remember’ what it was like to take pictures with an old camera and I asked him to make a self portrait. I had little or no idea what he would photograph, I thought maybe his house, some memorabilia, but I was a little shocked when he came in with thirty photographs of books:q4c2 q9c2 w7c2 w10c2

It is important not to portray John from this small selection, not to decide that these few books represent him as I took the images from Lightroom at random not being able to see the titles. As I said there are about thirty three photographs all of different books. John  had asked if I knew a painting by Picasso that showed half of the artist, as the artist, and the other half as a montage of his paintings – I said I didn’t, but he asked if I could portray him in that way – ‘to do something in photoshop that would reveal him through a notional portrait and his books.

I started to think about this as a representation of a person, I had asked for a portrait, well I think that these books portray John, who would I be to judge him differently? His ‘self-portrait’ through the titles of books, a representation of himself through the written word, but associated through an integration of an actual image of him and those books.

Of course, like so many others would do, was to look at those titles and see which title I could recognise, which I had read and which I knew I would never read. There were lots in each category, but I then began to think about what John had done in representing himself in this way – what he hoped to reveal and what he had hoped to conceal. Books to me are special, I have an attachment to almost every book I have read, I can’t abide throwing them away – I always feel as if I will need them, read them again, pass them down – something! To throw them out would be to devalue them, make worthless those words that have meant so much to me; so I feel some affinity to John already.

I needed a portrait and John brought me a choice a print and a negative (with a contact set including the image on the negative strip)

Film scan

Film scan

Contact strip

Contact strip

John wanted to to use the above image as the base image from which to make the photo montage, but he expected that I would use the print from the contact set. He realised that this print was small so he brought this very formal shot – below – as an alternative.



Here are two impressions of the book collections:

Books as a library (I have cloned three book 'tiles' in order to make an even constrcution

Books as a library (I have cloned three book ’tiles’ in order to make an even construction)

An impression of all the books loaded randomly as an alternative view

An impression of all the books loaded randomly as an alternative view

I’ll now spend some time integrating a composite of John and his books to complete a ‘self portrait’ as he sees himself. An expression of his identity





9 thoughts on “John – a self portrait

  1. All those books look so interesting. it was only a couple of days ago that I was watching the TV programme “My Life in Books”. I know it’s too small but there’s something about that contact strip that I find very appealing. Combined with the books it gives me an impression of someone who has a lateral view of life. I’m looking forward to seeing the final collage and have also been thinking of what my self portrait would be. I need to learn more about layering first I think.

    • I think books are a good way to make a self portrait, after we all choose what we want to read, so it is a good reflection of what we are…
      I like the contact strip also, I wondered how it was made as it’s area was less than the negative! Interesting…

  2. This is fascinating and your enthusiasm is evident! I’m working on a project that has some similarities with yours, with migrants to this country and the “precious object(s)” – things that were so important to them that they couldn’t leave them behind – that they brought with them. Quite a few brought photographs, as one would expect, partly because of their significance and partly their portability, but I’m intrigued by the variety of other objects that people have brought to be photographed – including a cob of corn grown by a grandmother in Zimbabwe, a bible, a seashell, a cricket medal, a recipe book, a sheaf of notes of huge denominations of Zimbabwean dollars from a time of hyperinflation and an “elephant of luck”. I have no idea what I would choose to take if I went to live thousands of miles away. It’s a bit like Desert Island Discs (or Desert Island Pics)!

    • Thanks Jill and your work sounds equally fascinating to me! Do you have it on a blog and if so could you provide a link? I’d like to see what you’ve explored so far.
      I’m wondering about a couple of things with these portraits/memoirs; identity is quite key to what I want to explore and these portraits are an expression of that, with what is brought to show and what isn’t…

      • I don’t have a blog but would be happy to send you some images by email if you let me have your address.

    • I’ve only just found this message – I had forgotten to tick the “keep me updated” box! I’ll send the pictures this afternoon and would be interested in your honest opinion! I’ve copied the email address in case you want to take it down.

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