Photography | Identity And Representation

A self portrait of Glenn Guy, the Travel Photography Guru, formed on a shinny set of lift doors in a hotel in Beijing, China.

I've only ever photographed myself on a couple of occasions. Nonetheless it's a good process to go through for a photographer as it allows us to explore how identity and how we can use photography to present ourselves to the world.

This particular photo was made just outside the lift in a boutique hotel in Beijing, China. It's just a bit of fun in the early stages of familiarizing myself with my then new Leica M9 camera. Just look at what I did to my nose to ensure I had the best possible vision through the camera's rangefinder.

The image was made at 1/15 second with an aperture of f/5.6 at ISO 800 with a Leica M9 camera and Leica 35 mm f/2 Summicron-M series lens.

It was night time and I had returned to the hotel after a winter's evening exploring the surrounding neighborhood. My reflection, and the characters that look at bit like the term OK, were formed on the surface of a very shinny lift. As it was nighttime the only lighting available to me came from a weird mix of artificial light sources. A black-and-white rendering seemed like the best way to neutralize this range of colors and draw attention back to the subject: me.

Representation And The Masks We Wear

The reason for making the photo was to explore reflections and the notion of representation. How much of the person we present to the world is true to who we really are? Reflections are, by their very nature, a distortion of reality. We do not look like our image in the mirror, with its reversed viewpoint. Yet how much of our inner self is actually evident through our outward appearance?

A self portrait of Glenn Guy, the Travel Photography Guru, in the village of Nordragota in the Faroe Islands.

Why Photograph Yourself Holding Your Camera?

It's common for a photographer to portray themselves with a camera and expensive lens attached. But, if I was a potential customer, I'd assume you'd have good camera equipment. It's a given! So why do it? Perhaps it's the unfortunate association photography has with equipment. Perhaps the equipment is used by the photographer as a kind of shield or mask by which to hide themselves, at least in part, from the world.

Actually, I think it's fine to make photos of yourself, whether or not your camera is included in the picture at the time. What matters most is that you do have photos of yourself and that they're interesting images.

The photo of me reflected in a mirror in the streets of Nordragota, a small village in the Faroe Islands is, I hope visually investing. I'm holding the camera, not so much as it forms part of my identity, but simply because I had to to be able to make the photo in question. But the camera fills up less than one percent of the frame so, clearly, its presence is only incidental to the image in question. 

I remember seeing a great photo of photographer Martin Bailey on the about page of his website. Martin's an excellent wildlife photographer and a great guy. Like me Martin is also a Master at The Arcanum. The photo of Martin that I'm referring to is an extremely well made studio photograph featuring Martin with some really nice Canon gear. Now, to my mind, this image is a bit of an exception. It's very well crafted, which I can appreciate, and the lens in question is a thing of beauty.

Here's Wally

Those comments only illustrate that judgement is a very subjective concept. In addition this rather specialized telephoto lens identifies Martin as a serious wildlife photographer and, as such, is specific compared to the more generic here's Wally with his camera photo common to most photographers websites.

Glenn Guy, the owner and primary content producer of the Travel Photography Guru site on an early expedition to Pangong Tso (i.e., Pangong Lake) in Ladakh in northern India.

A Self Portrait Of Glenn Guy Without A Camera

The above photo of me at Pangong Tso (i.e., Pangong Lake) in Ladakh in northern India was made in, I think, 1992. It shows me, very much, on location yet without any camera equipment. Do I need to be holding a camera to tell the world I run an educational photography website and blog called the Travel Photography Guru? As you can see a caption serves that purpose very well indeed. 

A self portrait of Glenn Guy, the Travel Photography Guru, on the Mt Aspiring Road near Wanaka, New Zealand.

When It's Okay To Show Your Camera In  A Self Portrait

Of course there's no rule that says Thou Shalt Never Photograph Thyself Holding Thy Camera. It's a free world, relatively speaking, and you can do what ever you like as long as it doesn't hurt anyone. What's more, just as it's fine to photograph a carpenter holding or swinging a hammer, it's fine to show a photographer, on location, doing what they do.

The above image of me photographing a landscape from within the car is a bit cheeky. It's considered lazy making photos that way, and it's certainly not part of my normal practice to do so. What's more it's really not a self portrait as the camera has obscuring most of my face.

Photography | The  More You Look, The More You'll See

What it is intended to be is a fun example of how to be creative. The photo includes me, my camera, the car in which I'm exploring the south island of Zealand and one of that country's wonderful landscapes. the photo also explores the notion of a travel photographer and the compositional concept of a frame within a frame. You'll notice how I'm framed in the window of the car which is, in turn, framed by the car's side rear view mirror and by the outside edges of the photograph. 

A self portrait of Glenn Guy, the Travel Photography Guru, outside Hallgrimskirkja Luthern church in Reykjavík, Iceland.

Think About The Photos You Share

As far as your own internet identity (e.g., website, blog, Facebook, etc) is concerned it might be worthwhile examining how you choose to portray yourself? Photography, like any other passion, can bring its fair share of hardship and joy, frustration or elation. Your photographs, as much as the words you choose to you, can describe your experience in a very authentic and powerful way.

So what's your connection with photography? What is there about photography that you find attractive or compelling and how does it fire your imagination and creativity? If it's a love of the natural world, perhaps a photo of you in a beautiful outdoor location would be a better option. It's okay to include your camera in the photo, but try not to make it a dominant or competing element within the frame. The photo is, above or else, supposed to be about you, not your equipment.

If it's a business then what is the reason you have entered into your business? If the answer is to provide your family with a better life then, perhaps, you could include a photo of you having fun with your family. This should also re-enforce, in your own mind, why photography is such a large part of your life.

The question to ask yourself is, Do you really want to be identified with your equipment or with the reasons why it is that you do what you do?

Glenn Guy, Travel Photography Guru