Bernard G Mills


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Self Portraits: Introduction

A few years ago I came across a book entitled the camera i , which is full of self-portraits by well known photographers. This book made me feel a bit better about the fact that, since I first started using photography in 1965, I have used the medium to take photographs of myself; not due to vanity, egotism or any sense of physical good looks—I am well aware that I am no George Chakiris, Harrison or Cloony—but because, when I was playing with my camera, I was there at the time, willing to be photographed and able to be directed by myself, the photographer. I was able to experiment with poses, viewpoints, depth of field etc. without troubling anybody else (I was also reluctant to ask other people if I could photograph them; I always thought that it might be taken as a somewhat corny sexual overture, which of course it would not have been—though it could have been.)

Apart from experimentation (playing around), there is an aspect of making a record that I, as a person, was at a certain place at a certain time and that I actually existed. That was about the extent as far as content was concerned: being and playing.

I have recently been investigating my old negatives and scanning some of these old auto portraits which have become historical documents and show some of the many changes that have taken place.

Recent self-portraiture is more concerned with non-visual identity—I once entered a self-portrait to the John Kobal Photographic Portrait Award but it was returned with the observation, “Query: no (visual) human elements!”

I am not sure about the idea that you can judge a man’s character by the shoes he wears and I have not yet photographed my numerous Converse All Stars. However, browsing through a person’s books, records, CDs, videos and DVDs, seems to be a

universal process of informal, perhaps unconscious, investigation into their interests, taste and proclivities. It was with this in mind that I photographed numerous bookshelves (my own and other people’s) before producing LPs, my first series of photographs about me as an individual. They were twelve, 80 x 80 cm photographs, showing clearly, all the twelve and ten-inch vinyl records that were in my collection. This was followed by a two hours video/installation piece Title Roll that was shown at the Friese Greene Gallery in Brighton. I have, more recently, made a photograph of my collection of 7-inch vinyl records and a photograph that reflects my interest in Paris entitled Paris Passion.

In the film Sherlock Jnr., Buster Keaton falls asleep in a cinema’s projection room and dreams that he is in the projected movie. He climbs up, on to the stage and into the image on the screen. In a way, I am doing a similar thing; the incorporation of my reflection or shadow in a photograph (in some cases, a mysterious, unidentified figure), becomes a inclusion in another, fictional, existence.

Including my reflection or cast shadow in a photograph is also an informal way of marking the event — a kind of photographic version of ‘I woz here’. The photograph may be of a window or an advertisement with content of its own as well as the reflected image of myself and the location in which I am standing.

Conscious of the fact that other people’s work appears within my own (for example, in an exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam in 2002, I was able to incorporate myself into some large, highly reflective photographic prints by Beat Streuli), I favour the view that the work included is part of the environment in which I am photographing. I consider (and intend) it to be a tribute to the maker of the work, that I wish to incorporate their work or associate with it. I also regard this to be neither plagiaristic nor an infringement of copyright as I am clearly not claiming others’ work as my own and where I am able, I give credit to the originators on each occasion that my photographs include aspects of their work. It is my sincere hope that this view is shared by the artists concerned.

Mirrored—Venice Bienale. 2007