Introduction I’ve always been a selfish person. I used to feel guilty about it. I wasn’t a “good” wife or a “good” mother, not even a “good” friend. Osho once said: “Be selfish. (…) Don’t consider anybody else in the world, just consider yourself. You will be surprised to discover so many treasures within yourself that soon you’ll start sharing them, because holding a treasure is a lesser joy than sharing it.” This is exactly what happened to me. In 2007 I realized I had taken self-portraits for almost 20 years. I started to collect family pictures and put them together with my self-portraits. Photographs were speaking to me. Little by little the project took shape into an epic and
I started to use words too, because I want to tell my story. I don’t want people to browse through this book comfortably without getting involved body and soul with all their senses in all my visceral processes. I don’t treat images as something precious or unattainable. Photography is an important medium with many possibilities, but it’s just a medium. I don’t have a passion for photography, but I do have a true devotion for the human being, indiscriminately. I don’t like art that doesn’t say anything to the woman
next door. I want to show what can be done with photography, to dig into one’s life, their emotions, their shit and bring out diamonds… This book is not a complete account of my first 48 years, since some important things are missing here. It is a narration of my inner life and of those crucial events which influenced it. It’s not meant to be objective at all. Now it’s done and my emotional life is made public...It’s not only mine anymore, and that feels great.
«he didn’t want to see me ever again»
From 15 to 20 I was a heroin addict. When I was 19 Dad told my sister to tell me that he didn’t want to see me ever again, if I didn’t stop. After one year I quit drugs completely, but I hadn’t realized that it was precisely
his ultimatum which had made me quit. I had started doing drugs to attract my parents’ attention. The last thing I wanted was a complete break up with them. Especially Dad. From then until his funeral, I lived with
the thought that he didn’t really care for me; until my sister told me that he had done it to make me quit. This unfinished business with Dad makes him even more alive inside me.
In my teenage years these feelings of inadequacy generated a huge rage. When my father left my mother, who later fell into a deep depression, I was only twelve and I felt even less seen. Most of my sisters were powerful and competitive. I think we all suffered in some way from lack of attention and caring, and
each had her own way of reacting. I was too sensitive, so I learned a way to relate to them, in order to avoid confrontation. It consisted of admitting my weakness and letting them take control. This helped me to find protection from some, but it didn’t help my selfesteem and only served to intensify my rage.
My sisters were beautiful, creative, famous and revolutionary, and I wanted to be like them, but I felt ugly and unimportant. I remember very well thinking “You’ll see, I’ll do something important too!” when I started taking heroin.
Photo Manel Esclusa
Photo: Colita, Manel Armengol.
At the beginning of our addiction we had lots of fun, and I became punk, famous in Barcelona’s underground and cool clubs such as Zig Zag and Studio 54. I used to make crazy outfits with industrial plastic fabric second-hand fur collars, pieces of leather, my dad’s old tailcoat or cape, and even with tin coasters. I loved to dance, and I did my best,
because I wanted everybody to look at me. Capturing people’s attention, and having my family worry about me made me feel great. I always wanted to be a model. I adored being photographed. I felt I could fully express my charisma and my strength. I think I already wanted to make my life public so that anybody could get inspiration
from it. I wanted to let out my emotions. I wanted to be admired and to get naked in every way in public. This was true liberation. I didn’t feel lonely anymore: it was as if I could connect with the whole world. The more people could see me, the better. I continued modelling during my drug dependency, until my face couldn’t hide the drama anymore.
22 years of
The magnificent plasticity of the ego
I was 24 and thrilled to start a new life in another country. I loved how my partner used the camera to capture people’s inner life and strength, so I picked the camera, turned the lens to myself and took my first self-portrait. It was 1988. I had found the way to re-create the gaze I needed, but there was a lot of work to do to soothe my uneasiness and permanent inner pain. Being selfcentered and insecure, I was never relaxed with others. I didn’t have my own friends, I only related to my partner’s. He was on stage, I was backstage; almost unseen.
I started a Freudian psychoanalysis with a terrible therapist who never said a word. I can’t believe I could stand it for three years, but I did, most of the time burning of rage in the couch. In the end, I quit saying that I wanted to have a baby and decided that I needed to stop thinking too much. Quitting that therapy made me feel young, light, and full of energy, and I became vane. I loved to look at myself in the mirror and wanted to capture that image, that gaze. But the images I produced were beyond vanity and beauty.
Iâ€™m a mother
In 1988 I became pregnant, but I lost the baby. In some tribes young girls must abort their first pregnancy. Itâ€™s a sort of initiation, to make contact with death before you can give birth to a new life.
Two years later we bought a beautiful property in the mountains. Two old stone houses with 35 acres of prairies and woods. It was paradise. The day we signed the contract I became pregnant with Diana,
who was born on July 3, 1991. Pregnancy was pure bliss. I felt I had a treasure inside me and nothing could disturb me or annoy me.
I was thrilled to find someone who had gone through hell and back, like me. We spent hours playing guitar and talking about our lives, sharing the pain and celebrating our survival with the most passionate love I had ever lived. We were so similar that it was like falling in love with ourselves. No love could be so passionate. He left for the army, in Bosnia. We wrote love letters to each other and for some months we even lost track of each other, meeting later on with great enthusiasm. I don’t know exactly why, but the great fire started to lessen until it eventually burnt out completely. I think it was useful for both of us to learn to love ourselves. Now that I read his letter, I realize that he was saying all this to himself, “I will always love myself”… It wasn’t supposed to last, but our individual self-love and an honest friendship remained.
Taking the ugliest pictures I feel so strong and free that I become beautiful. My Mamiya ZD is my medicine. I never take any other, except for the Canon 5D Mark II.
The epic of suffering I had never been so happy and peaceful. I’m always quite suspicious of happiness because I tend to lose contact with my inner self. So I resumed my study on the competencies of difficult emotions. It is essential for me to keep in constant contact with my pain, past or present. This is the only way I can feel whole. The many years of therapy have taught me to watch all my actions, listen to all my feelings in every situation and think about them in order to understand myself better. This process of thought follows a certain evolution. First of all I judge myself. Yes, I strongly claim my right to judge myself –for all these patronizing new agers who summon “don’t judge yourself”- because this is who we Western modern human beings are. Then, by acknowledging my mistakes, I try to understand why I made them, in order to forgive myself. The acceptance that comes
with this process brings me the necessary peace. Then I can see others as I see myself. And this is a constant process which allows me to really enjoy, bite, taste and swallow life with all my senses, feelings and spirit. But without the pain, if I protected myself from suffering, there is no process at all. Pain, like conflict, is the gasoline which makes life’s engine work. Making art with pain takes us to a very special place, common to all humans since the beginning of time. What we unknowingly say does not belong only to us, but to the whole humanity. And it’s timeless, although it can say a lot about humans today.
«it works both ways»
In the last few days she has changed. She’s calm and more content, probably due to the new medicine she’s taking. This makes her duller, less alive, but also happier. I don’t know how long this is going to last. I
hope I’ll be able to deal with her until she dies. Maybe she’ll live for ten more years. This close relationship with her feeds my soul, stimulates my emotions and challenges me
constantly. With Mom I feel free to be myself 100%. This is something essential she is giving me, still, even if she’s senile. It is something I need right now. So it works both ways, and that’s fantastic.
What? A self-portrait is an image, painting, sculpture, drawing or photograph whose subject is the maker of the artwork. To produce a photo self-portrait is to represent oneself or one aspect of oneself, literally or symbolically, using the camera. This method is based on my own experience, using the photo self-portrait to explore myself in every possible situation. It’s a journey through all aspects of your life, in three parts, with several self-portrait exercises in each part: an evolutive process I consider almost “physiological”. Starting from the exploration and affirmation of our multiple identities, we can concentrate on our relationships with others, and then we will naturally explore our place in this world: our true social role. We can’t open up to others until we have a clear vision of ourselves and have accepted it. As Stefano Ferrari puts it: “The construction of our Ego, to which the self-portrait refers, does not stop with the phase of the mirror. During the life of a human being there are innumerable situations in which these dynamics can reactivate, because every new encounter, every important event, every conquest or defeat, every important choice will question our sense of self, so that our Ego and the image which represents it must be, so to speak, updated or re-scheduled.” Following is the basic scheme of the method. Single exercises will be explained extensively later on, together with essential tips and advice: 1 - Me: individual self-portraits
••competencies ••character representation ••body ••places ••self-portrait without me ••roots 2 - Me and the other: relationship self-portraits, with:
••family members ••lover ••friends ••unknown people ••work or study colleagues ••boss or teacher ••dog 3 - Me and the world: your relationship with society
••exploration of one’s own communities (selfportrait with family, work, neighbourhood) ••self-portraits with unknown people in town, or in other communities where we don’t belong ••interaction with media images ••interaction with the history of art The method consists of taking self-portraits following the instructions for each exercise and then working on the images, using the given criteria for the perception and choice of the works. You will work on the dialogue between works and you will learn to build your own self-portrait project.
Why? The Self-portrait Experience is a training for inner freedom, something we need to work on, cyclically during our lives. Freedom to be ourselves 100%, to do what we’re supposed to do in this planet. That’s the method’s major goal, which is attained by working on the following objectives: 1 - Stimulate creativity
••learning how to trigger the creative process using our difficult emotions ••learning how to perceive images using specific artistic criteria ••learning how to build your art project
Clockwise, place self-portraits by Ylenia and Martina (indoors), Alessandro and Gilberto (outdoors).
picture. The silence was broken by a sudden applause. The following week she brought new pictures, the exercise was character representation (previous page, below). Again, the “punctum” (Roland Barthe’s name for the subjective focal point) of the image seems to be the eyes. How mysterious and attractive her eyes come out in the picture! How beautifully feminine and sensual she appeared…!
Place Take a self-portrait in a place, indoors and/or outdoors, which represents you or moves you positively or negatively. Listen to the effects of the place on your mood. It might be easier in your own room or house, but the effect of a self-portrait in the middle of nowhere is fantastic. You can find a beautiful spot in the middle of the woods, on top of a mountain or an empty field. Maybe you see yourself small and insignificant, but the grandeur of a landscape can function as a cradle or nest. You can also try it naked to intensify the emotion. Check your feelings in different situations and try the emotions exercise here too. Try different possibilities of framing, position, and try moving too, or doing something which helps you relate to the place: running or jumping or becoming an animal. Find a way to represent your smallness -or greatness- in the world and continue searching until you discover a pleasant feeling. When you choose the best picture, pick the one in which the relationship between the figure and the background is more significant (check the criteria). Then, put it into your project and work on the dialogue between images and project build-up.
Self-portrait without me Photograph empty landscapes, objects or other views without yourself or other people. Search for visions which represent you in some way: if I were a landscape, an object, which one would I be? Photograph the kinds of things you look for and see, while you listen, and let go, guided by your feelings, thoughts and physical sensations. This is a sort of delegated self-portrait, what most works of art are, no matter what the subject seems to be. It’s the artist’s vision. When you are working on your self-portrait project it’s easier to make all your pictures personal. After the workshop I usually recommend people to photograph other people and places in this manner, so they keep in contact with themselves and in fact, they photograph their relationship to what they see. This helps their work to be more personal.
Photographing yourself with an unknown person is an intense experience, and this intensity usually makes great pictures, if you manage to keep the tension in silence. Leila and Vesa (above) are completely different. Nevertheless Leila’s finger touching the cable Vesa is holding conveys the magic of the picture. Turku, Finland, 2009 A single gesture can carry dense significance: below, Ilona and Kitty in Turku, Finland, 2009.
Relationship with a teacher or boss: Exploring your relationship with a leader (your teacher or boss), especially when you have chosen to follow them, will put you in contact with your own perception of yourself in the future, who you want to be and your way to relate to power and authority. Even if you have a precise idea in your mind about these aspects in yourself, the self-portrait can really help you discover something new –and positive. And you might find that the process is mainly about getting closer. Gaia attended one of my self-portrait workshops at Forma, Milan. She’s a smart and strong video artist and photographer, with multiple experience in film, dance and theatre. We shot this series of self-portraits (opposite) together during one of my lessons. We were tense at the beginning, because we are two strong women and we didn’t know each other then. But gradually we got closer: I love the second picture, in which we are looking at each other’s eyes and our hands seem to reach for each other. In the last picture, which I believe is the best,
the core of our actual relationship is expressed. There are the signs of suffering in both of us: you can imagine two intricate lives behind our faces. It is Gaia who is shooting the picture and as I see it, she’s showing her determination to achieve all her goals – this is what closeness to your teacher can inspire. I think I look quite relaxed, but somehow uneasy about her strength, although it seems I actually accept it, which makes me a bit melancholy. Gaia says “I remember I was happy to be able to shoot this picture with Cristina, because I had the possibility to build a closer relationship with her –as opposed to being one of the group. Looking at the pictures I saw our relationship was possible, maybe this is why I asked her to continue our workshop individually. I still recall the tension before the first shot. I had the cable release in my hand and waited quite a long time to find the right moment for me to assert myself in the relationship. There was a dialogue between our bodies from the beginning –at the beginning we were separate and I needed to be more assertive-, then our eye contact made
Me and the world
in her left side (to our right) she saw, at the same time, anger, submission, and innocence. In her right side (at our left) she saw intelligence, will-power and anger. In the whole picture she saw a balanced attitude between will power and duty. Angelo (left) saw satisfaction, seduction, and defiance in his right side (our left) and hatred and depression on the left (our right). In the whole image he had a more positive vision: a bit sad but coping with it. Another technique to check multiplicity is to try to imagine other elements, beings or objects which the subjectâ€™s expression suggests, even if they are not really present in the picture. In the collaborative self-portrait of Lasse, a Finnish therapist (opposite, above right), who was shouting to express extreme despair, someone in the group saw a Roman centurion torturing him, which led to someone else seeing him as Jesus Christ just before dying in the cross. In the collaborative self-portrait of Erica, a young Venetian student (opposite, above left) the group saw the desert, as if she was a beggar travelling through the dunes of sand. Some members of the group saw Dario (opposite, below left) driving a Roman â€˜bigaâ€™, a two-horse chariot. Others saw a mirror, others a syringe.
necessary to remind me that the body exists, that we are a body and an image. I had been reading a lot on the self-portrait and on Cristina’s method, and in those days her workshop started. I found myself projected life-size, half naked on a white screen in front of eight unknown people. I was deeply moved, I could barely hold back my tears. That image, that body, was me. I don’t recognize myself and I don’t like myself, but that’s me. A process of identification and recognition has begun. That’s me, of course, and I can see all my ancestors there too. I look at the pictures of my father notary, my grandfather viveur, my great-grandfather judge and my thoughts take me to ancient ancestors, writers and scientists, whom my family often remembered. I recall fellow countrymen as Giacinto Pannella, who changed his name to Marco to avoid being considered part of an old distinguished family. Who cares about ancestors! The scream comes directly from my heart. But then I under stand that the liberating cry, overcome after having left that small town, remains strangled in my throat. These are MY ancestors, yes. I slowly start to recognize small details, a fearful gaze, a wrinkle on the face… And my father again, so beloved, more for his similarity to me than for a tangible relationship. We never spoke. He never touched me when I was a kid. But I felt his fear sprang from absolute understanding and respect. He never touched me, and I never touched others. I tried to relate otherwise, and I still do, in a deeper and truer manner. I look at my self-portrait and for the first time I really see myself, with no filters. All workshop participants seem to understand. For the first time I perceive others’ absolute comprehension of my body. I don’t need to hide anymore, I can show myself freely, fearlessly. I don’t need to cover. There is a sort
of pervasion, as in the picture with my father. A pervasion with myself. Now I look at my passport pictures I have meticulously collected for years: driving licenses, ID cards, associative badges… But who am I? Am I the one with the huge collar or the one with the beard, or maybe that one with the “young” light brown jacket? I continue taking self-portraits. This allows me great concentration and complete attention on myself. I am sure that the creative process comes through the inner gaze before the outer. I’m convinced that an artistic project must spring only from self-knowledge and the awareness of one’s emotions. Art, like life, always means confronting ourselves.”
Jose Aguirre, CEO at Bestiario, Spain.
an important effect on internal communication. Each participant will keep his or her images, to allow them to â€œspeakâ€? to him in time and work as a touchstone. Some might wish to continue the workshop individually.
About leadership 1 - About leadership and charisma Leaders are always exposed. Their capacity to project a positive public image depends on their inner image, on how they see themselves. A good public image, together with a clear vision and human ideals, is what makes people follow a leader, work with motivation and feel they belong to the company. Most photographs of leaders do not express their full charisma. They show people who do not seem to be able to lead companies of thousands. This is because many of them are not used to being photographed and the photographer does not know how to help them express their potential. They do not give too much importance to photographs. But photographs are a major vehicle of communication nowadays, so why not use them? I think that most leaders think they do not possess charisma. True charisma has its roots in our life experience, our suffering, which has given us our ideals and human values. By confronting our difficult emotions and vulnerability we discover our strengths, which becomes charisma in the image. A face which expresses only one emotion, with no vulnerability, is not really charismatic. Itâ€™s the mixture, the contrast, the multiplicity of thoughts and emotions, together with communicative power, which make the leader real, human and inspiring. The self-portrait I propose
can amplify these aspects, since the gaze towards oneself is much richer and more vulnerable, therefore, charismatic. Every time a company asks me for portraits of their managers, for the publication on the press, I propose to start with a short coaching with the self-portrait: we build the manager’s image together. Before working on the leader’s public image, before communicating himself to others, he will work on his inner dialogue, expressing and dealing with his emotions in order to accept them. After this process, ideally in a new session on a different day, he will be ready for the production of portraits for the press, the company’s website or house organ, or other usage. When the subject is empowered, his energy is high and he’s ready to open up to others, giving himself 100%. The portrait of a leader should express his qualities, his strengths, his charisma and his capacity to involve people sharing his enthusiasm and ideals, but also suggest his “scars”, signs of pain and stress, and some melancholy. True charisma does not exclude a leader’s dark side. 2 - Self-portrait of a leader “I have the position of administrative chief specialist in the department of dermatology in Turku University Hospital in Finland. I also work as occupational supervisor and process consultant for Hospital District of Southwest Finland. Right now I am finishing my Social and Healthcare Management Executive MBA degree. The title of my literary project is The Self Portrait of a Leader. I am studying how different creative methods, especially self portraits, could
enhance leadership. In my opinion, the most important competency of a leader is to be visionary. All too often we keep ourselves busy in the administration with routine tasks. In Cristina´s workshop I chose to work with this competency, to become a visionary. According to the instructions, I started with the opposite, performing the daily routines. When performing I had a feeling that I wanted to get away from this situation. I felt relieved when I realized that because of my life experiences and long career there is the visionary inside me. In the third image I see the balance: in an organization you have to make strategic decisions towards the vision but there are several facts and requirements that have to be taken into consideration. How could the workshop refine me as a leader? To expose yourself to the feelings and emotions that the duties aroused, and see those in the photographs, is one step towards better self-knowledge and acceptance of failure which is a prerequisite to inventions.” Leena Koulu (following page) Giulio Malegori (page 133) is the president and CEO of AEGIS MEDIA Italy. I was called to take portraits of him for the Italian press, but before taking his public image, I asked him to take a series of self-portraits with a black background. He took a magnificent self-portrait, the very best of the whole series. I couldn’t take a better portrait of him. The Italian press did not like it, they thought he was too serious and somehow sad. Of course, comparing to the usual trend in communication, which Berlusconi
and the media have largely influenced, this picture is an alien, it cannot be understood.
exercise (above) she managed to open up and showed her weakness and need of protection. The body selfportraits were all taken on the ground. I put my paper backdrop on the floor and placed the camera on top of the women pointing downwards. This helped them to relax and achieve more interesting body movements. The picture represented by the drawing below was the one she didn’t like at all. When she saw it she immediately said “Not this one!” I asked “Why?” she said “I look like a child, I’m scared, very sad”. How she never allowed herself to appear. Under her bum is her black shirt, but I asked her “what does this look like?” She said “I don’t know, what do YOU see?” I said “Shit.” She looked at me with her eyes and mouth wide open “Did you know…?” “What?” “That I had an operation in my gut, and they left a hole, and the shit went all over my body and I had to rush to the hospital in a high fever… I almost died!” I said “Well, what needs to come out, has come out, you’ve made it!” After the body exercise R. changed her attitude completely. She became solemn and proud. Her gaze became intense, as if piercing reality and looking into another dimension. In her new emotions self-portrait, before the relationship exercise, R.P. managed to express her full potential. Here the group compared her to a jaguar. I looked up “jaguar” on my Animal Spirit Guide book and it seemed to be the symbol of the shaman. R.P. then said that her grandmother was a traditional healer and that she had told her she possessed the same capacities. R.P. then told us that she sometimes has premonitory dreams, she had actually dreamt about being caught by the police a few days before it actually happened. And later on she dreamed she was let out of prison, a week before the judge put her on parole.
Everyone said she really looks like a shaman here, as if stimulating people in a ritual. I also saw a sort of feminine Che Guevara, leading her guerrilla fighters through the woods at night. In the relationship self-portraits with M.S., R.P. seemed to inspire M.S. to express her feelings. R.P. didnâ€™t like M.S. at the beginning, but after this session they became friends. R.P. was placed on house arrest and the same day she called me on the phone. I went to see her a couple of times. She was very upset to discover that house arrest feels terrible: loneliness, no workshops, no support and the door calling her to escape. I was happy to be there to remind her about the strengths her pictures carried and to help her continue an autobiographic work on her own. Once I set up my studio in her room and she
Sebastian, Hilma (Turku, 2010)
Niilo, Leo (Turku, 2010)
Daniel Klimscheffskij (Turku, 2010)