Self-Portraits, '72-'73

...had committed myself to this project. The obsession with forgetting has been central. Having forgotten my mother, what she looked like, what she was like, how she treated me before she died when I was twelve, has been an abiding concern. Not remembering meant, to some extent, having to create a self without the foundation of remembering much about those first twelve years and trying to raise a daughter without remembering having been a child.


Using the Rollei with a self-timer, Tri-X film, a tri-pod and available light, I started. I had no particular plan except that each month would have a different visual focus. It was important to let my unconscious, rather than my intellect, dictate the progression. For reasons I don’t entirely understand, being nude became part of the project early on. And working against that white wall, near the two front windows in the so-called living room, became a central point. By March, I was playing with the idea that if anyone got close to me, my urge was to cover my face, so the images that month alternate between close-ups of the body and the face.


In the final set, I printed a pale gray square to represent the days that I forgot to take pictures. When I started, I never imagined that these images would be seen, much less published or exhibited. But when a portfolio of my work, the Krissy prints, some self-portraits and a section of these daily self-portraits, was about to be published in the Camera 35 Annual, I became self-conscious and stopped taking these photographs. By the time I started again, I’d lost momentum and ended the project in August by using photographs of Krissy and me, and then letting Krissy take her own self-portraits. She was quite aware of what she wanted and a good judge of when the self-time would go off so that she could to put nickels on her eyelids or wiggle her head.


All of the photographs were shown at Foto Gallery run by Alex Coleman and Adal Maldonado. Unfortunately, I didn’t include text, so there was no explanation of my long struggle with lost memory and fragmented identity. At that time photographers, including Lee Friedlander and Mike Mandel, were beginning to concentrate on self-portraits, but I think that only one other woman, who happened to be German, was working on the extensive daily series. If I remember correctly, Shelly Rice, an influential critic, reviewed my show, and wrote that she considered that my images to be co-opted by the male vision of the nude female posing against a wall. To some extent she was correct, though I think if she had considered the whole body of work, she might have noticed that they break away in the form of a spoof, if you will.


When I look at these photographs, I see a young woman, trapped in a body too attractive for her to manage, much less enjoy, who was battling depression and struggling like the devil not to reveal the pain she was in. I was an unmarried mother, sole supporter of her daughter, with no skills other than typing and short hand. Within a year, I would learn that I was capable of teaching photography.


This series became important partly because John Szarkowsi bought a number of them that were exhibited in new accessions show at the Museum of Modern Art. I had no idea that I would continue taking daily self-portraits at intervals over many years and that this project would become one segment of work about change and aging. The vintage prints were made on a lovely fiber paper, Agfa’s Portrega Rapid.