A Laser Printer Self-Portrait
And Why I destroyed Another Book
I have never been one to take many pictures of myself. And on the rare occasions when I do turn the camera the other way around, it is usually for the sole purpose of sending a selfie to my mom so she knows I’m still alive, living on my own and all.
But I do feel like there is a certain responsibility of a photographer to take and share their own portrait. Especially at a time when the vast majority of people who look at my work rarely or never see me in person, I do feel a duty to attach a real human face to all those pictures of lonely trees and mailboxes.
So, for the last few years I’ve been updating my website and social media profiles with a new picture of myself, about annually. Sometimes a self-portrait, more often a photo taken by a close friend, these pictures serve as my avatar to the greater art-making internet world. Not that this is a unique practice – ever since we all jumped on Facebook, the regular upkeep of a profile picture has been a crucial part of existing online.
But as important as these pictures feel at the time of posting, I hardly ever look back through them. Each older portrait gets pushed farther back into the void with the addition of a new one, and sometimes I forget how long that portrait chain goes back. I can see my physical self change some over this time, however slight. My glasses and hair length certainly vary from year to year (glasses trend rounder and hair longer, over time). And the location of each photo tells a lot about where I was in my life at that moment, summarizing my travels and different homes of the previous few years.
Even so, some of these portraits feel somewhat stayed or without real meaning, thrown up on social media as a begrudged update so that people know my hair is longer now, or to get a quick serotonin boost from someone liking a picture of me. None have been really thought out or conceptualized past “I need a new picture of myself.” In particular, the few self-portraits seem either too serious or too silly, usually a product of overthinking if the final image actually looks good or not.
Considering all this, I recently had a (relatively) simple idea for a self-portrait that would connect the act of photographing and sharing an image of myself to my actual artistic process. My thought was to link this online marker of this specific time in my personal life to this specific time in my art-making life, hopefully making a more meaningful and memorable image in both regards – a self-portrait in the physical and figurative sense. (Now, this all might be overthought as well, but at least this one looks pretty cool).
The idea, stemming from my recent experiments using my laser printer to print on existing book pages, was to print a portrait-video of myself frame by frame on subsequent pages of a book. Put back together, the video of me would play like normal as the content of the book flashed by like end credits on fast forward. The only logical book to destroy for the completion of this task, of course, was my laser printer’s own user manual. It would be a self-portrait of the printer as much as one of me.
This experiment, like most, was easier thought up than actualized. I spent many frustrating hours begging my printer to feed the pages of its manual all the way through its many internal twists and turns. I still don’t fully understand what I was doing wrong. It might have been a problem with the accuracy of the page size I set in the printer, but I think it also could have been the printer revolting against the self-cannibalization it sensed I was forcing upon it. In any case, the pages finally fed and I printed all 98 frames of my face with a few manual pages to spare.
I set up a makeshift copy stand over my desk and photographed each printed frame with my phone. Bringing the files onto my computer, I used video editing software to batch edit and align all frames to create a smooth-moving image. I exported the video and converted it to a GIF to share here and host on my website.
The finished version is a little choppy, like watching a movie on a projector with a dying motor, but I think that was kind of the point of going through this whole convoluted process. Each step made an impact on the GIF that is now the main portrait on my website’s about page, and I am happy with how much of my artistic “hand” is apparent as I watch the video loop over and over again. When I look back at this portrait in the long line of portraits used to represent my physical form on the internet, I will also be able to remember what I was doing to make art right now, what materials I was interested in, what ideas were floating around in my head (that I always think looks huge in pictures).
So, will next year’s portrait be just as thought out and complex? Will my hair be even longer, and can my glasses even get any rounder? I guess we’ll see, but I know for sure I’ll try to make it memorable.
If you are interested in reading more about portraits and self-portraits, allow me to recommend this post by Jordan Hundelt on her tarot/artist journal/self-introspection newsletter 22. I definitely reread this a few times over the course of making this year’s portrait update.
I’d also recommend checking out @photographersphotographed, an absolutely wonderful Instagram account posting portraits and self-portraits of well-known photographers throughout the medium’s long history. A real inspiration for portraiture in general, and always an interesting look back at the big figures of the past.