Contextual Research, Sustainable Prospects

Sustainable Prospects – Considering Others – Gertrud Arndt

In 1930, out of ‘boredom’, Gertrud Arndt decided to take photographic self-portraits, which she called the  ‘Mask Portraits’. Arndt later described the way in which she took the photographs.

“This was the way I sat down, on a chair without a back, of course. The camera was in front of a large window, we had gigantic windows in Dessau. And then I attached a black thread of twine to the old camera – it didn’t have a self-timer – which I ran through a round stone underneath, so that the camera couldn’t fall over. Tripods were still so wobbly then, they didn’t have a metal spike yet. I sat very carefully and looked into the camera. I placed a brush with a sheet of newspaper attached to it behind me so that I could adjust the focus; I gave the brush a push so that it fell over, and then I pulled the shutter. Quite simply, that was how they were all made, the Mask Photos.”

– Arndt (, 2017)

All are composed in a similar fashion. Due to the set up she used, the self portraits are all os Arndt’s upper torso and head. Arndt was an amateur photographer who was interested in experimenting with disguises and the transformation of herself in front of the camera. Although it is unclear exactly what her motivations were, it appears that her work was not about exploring her identity, but were about the drama that could be created in a photo.

Figure 1: Arndt. Self Portrait, Self-Timer. 1930


In each image, Arndt transforms her face. For example she closes or crosses her eyes o alter her face. By doing so, she is questioning the notion that the camera produces an accurate image of us. Instead, the photograph is the representation of her. In Arndt’s words “you just need to open your eyes and already you are someone else, or you can open your mouth wide or something like that, and a different person has already appeared. And if you dress up in costume as well … It’s like looking into the mirror and pulling faces … Basically a mirror image.” (, 2017)

Figure 2: Arndt. Maskenfoto, Dessau. 1930


Arndt’s work was a predecessor of work produced by photographers including Gillian Wearing and Cindy Sherman. Her theatrical self portraits, like those of Sherman, Arndt does not seem to have a specific narrative in her images. Also there does not appear to be a central theme even. The images appear to be purely moments of emotion captured on film. Whatever her intention, the viewer engages with the images to interpret them in their own way.

I relate to Arndt’s work in the way that I produce work. Like her, I enjoy experimenting with photographic images. I have been using different facial coverings and grimaces during this module to transform the face in front of the lens.


REFERENCES (2017). Mask portrait No. 13, Dessau : Bauhaus100. [online] Available at: [Accessed 4 Dec. 2017].



Figure 1: SELF PORTRAIT HISTORY. (2017). gertrud arndt Archives | SELF PORTRAIT HISTORY. [online] Available at: [Accessed 4 Dec. 2017].

Figure 2: Morley, M. (2017). The Many Disguises of Bauhaus Photographer Gertrud Arndt. [online] AnOther. Available at: [Accessed 4 Dec. 2017].

Contextual Research, Sustainable Prospects

Sustainable Prospects – Our Greatest Battle

 “The greatest battle we face as human beings is the battle to protect our true selves from the self the world wants us to become.”

– E. E. Cummings (The Masks That We Wear 2017)


I wear a mask because I fear that the world will find out who I really am. But is it exhausting keeping up the pretence. I am not and cannot be my authentic and true self in my masks. I get weighed down by the masks. I put on more masks during the day, not always remembering to take the masks I already have on. The masks become so heavy to carry round each day. And who is beneath these masks? Do I even know who I am anymore? This is taking its toll on my mental well-being.

I have worn masks all my life, yet I wasn’t born with them. I have held onto negative messages and put the masks on to protect myself from them. So, if I put the masks on then surely I can take them off? But I can only take them off when I am ready.

Accepting who I really am and learning to love myself is the first step. I am unique and I should celebrate that fact instead of trying to fit in with the crowd. Now I need to take a deep breath and remove the mask. It is time to fight my greatest battle. I will win the battle just watch me.



The Masks That We Wear. 2017. Psychology Today [online]. Available at: [accessed 4 December 2017].

Contextual Research, Sustainable Prospects

Sustainable Prospects – Considering Others – Frida Kahlo

“I paint self-portraits because I am so often alone, because I am the person I know best.”

– Kahlo (Frida Kahlo, 2017)


Known for her self-portraits, Frida Kahlo used masks in some of her paintings to hide her pain and suffering. Kahlo suffered from polio as a child and suffered many broken bones in an accident. (Frida Kahlo, 2017).


“My painting carries with it the message of pain”

– Kahlo (Frida Kahlo, 2017)

Figure 1: Kahlo. Girl with Death Mask. 1938


In figure 1, Kahlo painted herself as a child wearing a skull mask. This type of mask is traditionally worn on the Mexican ‘Day of the Dead’. During the festival, death and the ancestors are celebrated. The painting is quite sinister with the innocence of the child juxtaposed against the death mask and the vast empty field in which she stands. The girl stands next to a large carved wooden mask of a tiger. As Kahlo noted “both masks seem not appropriate for the innocent tiny little girl and are symbols or hint for the cruelty of her destiny.” (Frida Kahlo, 2017)

Figure 2: Kahlo. The Mask. 1945


In the painting in figure 2, Kahlo painted herself wearing a mask. Her actual face is not revealed and we are unable to determine what she is thinking or feeling. Her gaze peers out from behind the mask. The mask style leads us to believe that Kahlo is slightly mad. Her own hair is visible behind the purple hair of the mask so that we know it is her wearing the mask.

In much the same way as the participants in my current work hide behind their mask, Kahlo is eluding the viewer when she is wearing the mask. Her pain is concealed behind the mask. We can only see what she allows us to see. The holes for the eyes are small; they are so small that we cannot see her eyes clearly enough to interpret what she is feeling.

The face we see is a different face to Kahlo’s. The mask hides the pain and suffering that she faced. Yet the style of the mask and the decoration of it allows us to glimpse at the level of sadness and despair that she is hiding behind it. This is in much in the same way as the words on the masks of my volunteers suggest the pain that they suffer and what they are hiding away from.



Frida Kahlo. (2017). Frida Kahlo: 100 Famous Paintings, Complete Works, & Biography. [online] Available at: [Accessed 3 Dec. 2017].



Figure 1: Frida Kahlo. (2017). Girl with Death Mask, 1938 – by Frida Kahlo. [online] Available at: [Accessed 3 Dec. 2017].

Figure 2: Frida Kahlo. (2017). The mask – by Frida Kahlo. [online] Available at: [Accessed 3 Dec. 2017].

Contextual Research, Sustainable Prospects

Sustainable Prospects – Be Yourself

“Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.”

– Attributed to Oscar Wilde (Quote Investigator 2017)



Be Yourself. Everyone Else Is Already Taken | Quote Investigator. 2017.[online]. Available at: [accessed 4 December 2017].

Contextual Research, Sustainable Prospects

Sustainable Prospects – Quote

“You always feel that you are the mask”

– Gillian Wearing (Adams 2017)



ADAMS, TIM. 2017. “Gillian Wearing: ‘I’ve always been a bit of a listener'”. the Guardian[online]. Available at: [accessed 4 December 2017].

Contextual Research, Sustainable Prospects

Sustainable Prospects – Please Hear What I’m Not Saying, Charles Finn

 “Please Hear What I’m Not Saying

Don’t be fooled by me.

Don’t be fooled by the face I wear

for I wear a mask, a thousand masks,

masks that I’m afraid to take off,

and none of them is me.

Pretending is an art that’s second nature with me,

but don’t be fooled,

for God’s sake don’t be fooled.

I give you the impression that I’m secure,

that all is sunny and unruffled with me, within as well as without,

that confidence is my name and coolness my game,

that the water’s calm and I’m in command

and that I need no one,

but don’t believe me.

My surface may seem smooth but my surface is my mask,

ever-varying and ever-concealing.

Beneath lies no complacence.

Beneath lies confusion, and fear, and aloneness.

But I hide this. I don’t want anybody to know it.

I panic at the thought of my weakness exposed.

That’s why I frantically create a mask to hide behind,

a nonchalant sophisticated facade,

to help me pretend,

to shield me from the glance that knows.

But such a glance is precisely my salvation, my only hope,

and I know it.

That is, if it’s followed by acceptance,

if it’s followed by love.

It’s the only thing that can liberate me from myself,

from my own self-built prison walls,

from the barriers I so painstakingly erect.

It’s the only thing that will assure me

of what I can’t assure myself,

that I’m really worth something.

But I don’t tell you this. I don’t dare to, I’m afraid to.

I’m afraid your glance will not be followed by acceptance,

will not be followed by love.

I’m afraid you’ll think less of me,

that you’ll laugh, and your laugh would kill me.

I’m afraid that deep-down I’m nothing

and that you will see this and reject me.

So I play my game, my desperate pretending game,

with a facade of assurance without

and a trembling child within.

So begins the glittering but empty parade of masks,

and my life becomes a front.

I idly chatter to you in the suave tones of surface talk.

I tell you everything that’s really nothing,

and nothing of what’s everything,

of what’s crying within me.

So when I’m going through my routine

do not be fooled by what I’m saying.

Please listen carefully and try to hear what I’m not saying,

what I’d like to be able to say,

what for survival I need to say,

but what I can’t say.

I don’t like hiding.

I don’t like playing superficial phony games.

I want to stop playing them.

I want to be genuine and spontaneous and me

but you’ve got to help me.

You’ve got to hold out your hand

even when that’s the last thing I seem to want.

Only you can wipe away from my eyes

the blank stare of the breathing dead.

Only you can call me into aliveness.

Each time you’re kind, and gentle, and encouraging,

each time you try to understand because you really care,

my heart begins to grow wings–

very small wings,

very feeble wings,

but wings!

With your power to touch me into feeling

you can breathe life into me.

I want you to know that.

I want you to know how important you are to me,

how you can be a creator–an honest-to-God creator–

of the person that is me

if you choose to.

You alone can break down the wall behind which I tremble,

you alone can remove my mask,

you alone can release me from my shadow-world of panic,

from my lonely prison,

if you choose to.

Please choose to.

Do not pass me by.

It will not be easy for you.

A long conviction of worthlessness builds strong walls.

The nearer you approach to me the blinder I may strike back.

It’s irrational, but despite what the books say about man

often I am irrational.

I fight against the very thing I cry out for.

But I am told that love is stronger than strong walls

and in this lies my hope.

Please try to beat down those walls

with firm hands but with gentle hands

for a child is very sensitive.

Who am I, you may wonder?

I am someone you know very well.

For I am every man you meet

and I am every woman you meet.”

– Charles C. Finn (Charles C. Finn, 2017)



Charles C. Finn. (2017). Please Hear What I’m Not Saying. [online] Available at: [Accessed 1 Dec. 2017].

Contextual Research, Sustainable Prospects

Sustainable Prospects – Photography as Therapy – Judy Weiser

In her book ‘PhotoTherapy Techniques’, psychologist Judy Weiser suggests that photographs can be used as a therapeutic tool when working with self-portraits. Her clients are encouraged and supported to understand the images they make themselves. They can also see other perspectives of themselves when they examine photographs taken of them by others

Weiser also suggests that we take photos of what is important in our lives, often at a subconscious level, and that in many ways all photographs we take are to some extent also self-portraits of ourselves. They show what we care about. There is a little bit of us in each image; we are connected to the image; we feel the emotion we felt when we took the image.

How we frame and set up a photograph will define the interpretation of the image. We all have different perceptions and unique life experiences that will subconsciously affect how we frame the images. By viewing images that either we took or that others took of us, we will interpret what we see as real based on the framing and our experience.

Our personal snapshots are taken to record important moments in our lives. These permanent records have emotions and feelings etched into them. Our memory links the two things together. These images are very effective, therefore, in enabling us to access and interpreting the emotions.

The impact on my project of the benefits and techniques that Weiser has pioneered has been in the way the images behind the mask have been captured. By encouraging the volunteers to talk through their mask and by using a trigger release so that I can make eye contact with them, the images were able to be captured spontaneously and when the volunteer was unaware when the shots were being taken. The volunteers then get to see themselves in a way that they would not have staged. By confronting the emotion and reality in the image, they can then start to understand what they are dealing with.



Weiser, J. (1993). Phototherapy techniques. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Contextual Research, Sustainable Prospects

Sustainable Prospects – Photography as Therapy – Dr. Hugh Welch Diamond

Using photography as a form of therapy is nothing new. Since the very beginning, photography has been used to try and help those with mental illnesses. Dr. Hugh Welch Diamond (1809 – 1886) was a psychiatrist who combined his photographic expertise with his medical training and photographed his patients in simple poses against a plain background. He pioneered the use of photography to treat patients with mental illnesses.

Diamond worked with the belief that mental illness could manifest itself in the faces and body language of people with mental illnesses.  He also believed as many did at the time, that the photograph was an objective representation of reality. For these reasons, he believed that portraits of his patients could illustrate the different types of mental illnesses and could be used in the diagnosis of each illness. He also claimed to be able to cure the patients with the images that he had taken.


“The patient’s subsequent amusement in seeing the portraits and her frequent conversation about them was the first decided step in her gradual improvement. And about four months ago she was discharged perfectly cured, and laughed heartily at her former imaginations.”

– Diamond (Harrowing portraits from Victorian lunatic asylum, 2015)


He said that “through studying the faces of patients, physicians could identify and diagnose mental complaints. The faces of the patients were seen to represent ‘types’ of mental illness such as melancholia and delusional paranoia.” (Portraits of Patients from Surrey County Asylum (ca.1855) 2017).  Diamond’s work centred around the idea that photographs could record the particular appearance of people with different mental illnesses (particularly their facial expressions). These photographs could be used as tools to aid diagnosis and treatment. Then, by showing the patients photographs of themselves, the mentally ill would be able to start to recover.


Figures 1 – 5: Diamond. Portraits of Patients from Surrey County Asylum. ca.1855.


Diamond observed that “Photography gives permanence to these remarkable cases, which are types of classes, and makes them observable not only now but forever, and it presents also a perfect and faithful record, free altogether from the painful caricaturing which so disfigures almost all the published portraits of the insane as to render them nearly valueless either for purposes of art or of science.” – (Diamond, 1856)

As a pioneer of photography as therapy, Diamond presented his patients with images that he felt were a mirror through which they could view themselves and react to. He attempted to nurture the patients to heal themselves. By viewing their portraits, he proposed that they could reflection on what they saw, forcing them to face their issues, and in doing so, overcome them. As Diamond said these images offered a “perfect and faithful record” (Diamond, 1856) to the patients. However, Diamond staged the images a little so that they reflected the patient exactly as he saw them and not as the patients or others viewed them.

Diamond’s work has influenced my current project method. As part of the ‘Behind the Mask’ project, volunteers are shown their images taken when they take their mask off. In the majority of cases, my volunteers have commented that it has really helped them to accept and discuss their issues. Some have commented that it made them feel lightened and relieved to have shared their issues and then viewed themselves doing so. The process of viewing the images is in much the same way Diamond used his images. However, in contrast to Diamond’s images, the portraits that my volunteers see are not just staged images taken of how I view the person. The volunteers are asked to portray themselves in the ‘normal’ images how they feel they present themselves to the world.  The unmasked images are of them letting go and dropping the mask. By talking through their issues and what they have written on the mask, the images are a true reflection of how the volunteer feels about their issues.

Even though his work was biased towards the female patients of the asylum he worked at, and the fact that many critics have questioned the validity of his work, Diamond has been very influential in raising awareness of mental illness and the use of photography as a therapy to help self healing.



Diamond, H. (1856). On the Application of Photography to the Physiognomic and Mental Phenomena of Insanity. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, [online] 8(0), pp.117-117. Available at: [Accessed 4 Nov. 2017].

Harrowing portraits from Victorian lunatic asylum. 2015. Mail Online [online]. Available at: [accessed 4 November 2017].

Portraits of Patients from Surrey County Asylum (ca.1855). 2017. The Public Domain Review[online]. Available at: [accessed 4 November 2017].



All Images: Portraits of Patients from Surrey County Asylum (ca.1855). 2017. The Public Domain Review[online]. Available at: [accessed 4 November 2017].


Contextual Research, Exhibition Notes, Sustainable Prospects

Sustainable Prospects – Paris Photo 2018 – Martin Schoeller and Pernod Ricard

Martin Schoeller is a German photographer who is best known for extreme close-up portraits that are hyper-detailed.

“Familiar faces are treated with the same levels of scrutiny as the un-famous. The unknown and the too-well-known meet on a level platform that enables comparison, where a viewer’s existing notions of celebrity, value, and honesty are challenged . . . Schoeller’s close-up portraits emphasize, in equal measure, the facial features, both studied and unstudied, of his subjects— world leaders and indigenous groups, movie stars and the homeless, athletes and artists— leveling them in an inherently democratic fashion.”

– (, 2017)

Schoeller’s portraits are of the famous and non-famous. Each one is photographed in exactly the same way. The catchlights in the eyes show that his lighting and shoot angle are the same for each subject.  It is evident from the images that none of the images are retouched, everyone is presented exactly as they really are.

In addition, the consistent composition ensures that the image is not affected by the location the shot is taken. Reducing the portraits to just head shots removes any potential for distraction from the background. The subject’s clothes also do not impact on the shot. Without having to allow for changes of clothes, the amount of time needed for each shoot is reduced.

The treatment of each image in exactly the same way is Schoeller’s signature. By ensuring consistency, he is trying to find truth in the images. With the proliferation of selfies and other portraits on social media, many with filters applied, we do not always see a truthful image.

“I do think all photographs lie. I don’t think there is one picture that is really honest. You can’t describe a person in a split second, but maybe in the grand scheme of photography, I think there are some pictures that are more honest than others, you know? So I’m trying to steer to the little bit more honest side of the spectrum”

– Schoeller (CNN Style, 2017)


His recent campaign for Pernod Ricard featured 18 images of their employees. I was given a ticket to Paris Photo by Pernod Ricard so that I could view the work in the exhibition in person.

The exhibition catalogue (below) goes into some detail about the campaign and features full page portraits. The publication, like the exhibition, is glorious. The portaits are stunning in their clarity and imapct. The things that stands out the most to me in all of them is the eyes. I was mesmerised by them in the exhibition and continued to be so in the catalogue.

Figure 1: Images taken from exhibit catalogue

The portraits raise questions about the intimate nature of getting this close to someone else’s face. The photographs are about the face and nothing else. The range of portraits taken celebrate the diversity of the Pernod Ricard worldwide workforce. Seeing them printed and displayed on a large scale is simply remarkable and was my highlight of Paris Photo.

Presented in large white frames on a dark blue background enhances the portraits even more (not that they need it). The viewer is drawn to the work like a moth to a lamp. Standing in front of the images, I was drawn in. The scale makes the subjects feel more powerful than I did. I felt small in comparison and was questioning my place alongside these images. I could have spent all day looking at them, interogating them in an attempt to know the person further. The intimacy of the experience made me feel like I knew them personally.


Figure 2: Images from the ‘Inspiring Action’ Exhibition

Also on display were 3 images from Schoeller’s stunning ‘Transgender’ project. The work features trans people during transition. The stunning portraits bring a voice and visibility to the transgender community.

Figure 3: Images from ‘Transgender’ Exhibition



CNN Style. (2017). ‘Honest’ photos of world’s most famous faces. [online] Available at: [Accessed 11 Nov. 2017]. (2017). Cite a Website – Cite This For Me. [online] Available at: [Accessed 11 Nov. 2017].

Contextual Research, Sustainable Prospects

Sustainable Prospects – Considering Others – Claude Cahun

“Under this mask, another mask. I will never finish removing all these faces.”

– Claude Cahun (Doy, 2007: 47)


In a time when homosexuality was a crime, Cahun sometimes felt obliged to wear a mask of femininity. She put on a pretense for her family, entertaining the company of the young man, even though as a transgender Jewish lesbian, she had declared herself not the marrying kind.

Claude Cahun (1894 – 1954) was a French artist, photographer, and writer. Using herself as a subject, Cahun explored issues surrounding her own gender and sexuality producing work that challenged and confronted the politics of the time. She believed that engaging with political theories could lead to social change.

In many of her images, Cahun wore a mask. By wearing the masks, Cahun does not return our gaze, keeping her eyes hidden from us. By not revealing her eyes, she emphasizes the tension between looking and appearance (a common theme of Cahun’s work). And yet this work draws us in, inviting us to engage but not penetrate beyond the outward appearance.

Figure 1: Cahun. Autorretrato. ca. 1927

In her short essay ‘Carnaval en Chambre’, 1926, Cahun considers the use of masks when interpreting issues surrounding identity and the self. She wrote about ‘the attraction of masks for those who do not want to live with their intentions clearly legible on their faces” (Doy, 2007: 41). The hiding of our true selves behind our masks could be considered as us hiding our true intentions from others. Although there is a sinister feel to this statement, I do not believe that Cahun intended it this way. The comments reflect how she felt she had to live her life to protect herself and her lover.

Doy notes that Cahun adds to the discussion when she suggests that “the game of masking soon leads to a situation where you cannot cause hurt, or perhaps cannot even live properly, as you are absent, detached from existence”. (Doy, 2007: 41).


Self Portrait c. 1928
Figure 2: Cahun. Self-portrait (kneeling, naked, with mask). c. 1928
Self Portrait c.1927
Figure 3: Claude Cahun. I am in training don’t kiss me. c. 1927


Cahun’s work was incredibly brave and ahead of her time. We are only just beginning to understand some of the issues that she explored in terms of gender fluidity etc. Most of the work did not come to public attention until after her death. The work inspires me to challenge what I think I know and to explore deeply behind my mask and the masks of others. A truly inspiring individual, her images will remain ingrained in my mind for a long time to come.


Self Portrait (in robes and Masks) 1928
Figure 4: Cahun. Self-portrait (full-length masked figure in cloak with masks). 1928
Figure 5: Cahun. Autoportrait. 1927



Doy, G. (2007). Claude Cahun: A Sensual Politics of Photography. London: I. B. Tauris & Company, Limited.



Figure 1:

Figures 2, 3, 4 and 5: (2017). Surrealists | Art Blart. [online] Available at: [Accessed 10 Nov. 2017].