The Art Of The Self Shot

Browse the web long enough – about six minutes should do the job – and you’ll stumble upon a self-photograph taken by a partially-dressed, young girl in a room in her house. Well, you do if you browse the sites I browse. I don’t know why young girls feel the need to strip naked or as near-nude as makes no difference but it’s clear that there’s either peer pressure or herd instinct at play here.

As somewhat of a keen photographer I find the pictorial style represented by these undressed girls fascinating on many levels. Do they obey the rule of thirds or do they flaunt it? Are level shots the norm or is a jaunty angle considered de rigeur when snapping oneself in the nip? Actually, none of these questions can be answered as intense investigation has determined that there is only one rule when taking a self shot: include the counterpoint of interest.

Self shots need a counterpoint of interest; something which draws the eye from the girl and then to the counterpoint, then back to the girl with a puzzled look on the face, back to the counterpoint, then to the girl in shock. It’s this interactive element that makes the self shot so absorbing and the photographic style such an engrossing art form. In very short order I’ve become something of a expert in the style.

Let’s take a look at some examples:


A brunette girl with an enigmatic smile stands in a bathroom, framed by towels. It couldn’t be a more normal scene played out in many bathrooms the world over. But then you see the sock. Why is there just one? Where is the other sock? There’s wonderful symbolism of loss here, something we’ve all experienced as we hunt through the tumble dryer and then run a hand around the still-damp inside of the washing machine drum wondering where it is.


A wall covering hides a piece of conventional artwork in the background making certain that we’re not distracted from the art filling up the rest of the volume. So we can let our eyes fall on the scene: a girl with blonde hair and white knickers stands serenely in the middle of chaos. This is the eye of the storm and a clear reference to the camera with its picture-taking eye that casually freezes moments of continual motion every day in a way that should seem like magic to us but yet we take for granted. Beautifully-crafted.


Another shot of a girl in chaotic surroundings but this is decidedly different. Here we see a short-haired girl trapped by the mess; it’s a very clever piece of framing using the mirror doors to convey the imagery of a cage. Inside and outside the captive environment we see objects of everyday consumerism: a shoe, a bottle, a brush. But the girl is relaxed and we can tell that she’s fully accepting of her confinement. She knows that we’re all in the same trap and the only thing to do is lay back and relax.


Here, we see an example of religious imagery in the young girl self shot art form. The girl in this picture is standing in a room dedicated to the worship of idols: film stars, television stars, music stars; it’s a temple and like all temples it’s a solemn place and not to everyone’s taste. But we’re also presented with an escape from celebrity in the form of a corridor heading away. The religious metaphor carries through well in this shot and we see that one pilgrim is heading towards the bright light. Are we tempted to follow? If we do then we’ll be following a dog’s arse. It’s an intriguing offer.


This picture portrays a damning indictment of the cosmetics industry in its clever juxtaposition of all those bathroom goods that keep you clean and fresh arranged in such an unpleasant way. Lids left open, bottles on their sides, and that counterpoint piece of perfection: the used cotton wool bud, so filthy your mind reels at the possibility of where it’s been. The look on the girl’s face is wonderful too. Her look over her shoulder says “well, what are you going to do about it?” What indeed?


Finally, a simple piece of advice conveyed simply through art: it doesn’t matter who we are and what we look like, how beautiful we may appear on the outside, or what tiles we choose to decorate our bathrooms with, we must never ever ever shit on the toilet seat. Because it’s just wrong. So very wrong. Did Henri Cartier-Bresson ever impart a little nugget of wisdom like that?

Author: Mark

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  1. So when are you running a workshop on this kind of photography?

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  2. I don’t think it’s something that can be taught; young girls seem to have an inate talent in these regards. Besides: I don’t think I’d like to see an undraped photo of you in a messy bathroom.

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  3. You don’t know what you’re missing… (probably just as well)

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