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 (Bauhaus100.de, 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.
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.” (Bauhaus100.de, 2017)
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.
Bauhaus100.de. (2017). Mask portrait No. 13, Dessau : Bauhaus100. [online] Available at: https://www.bauhaus100.de/en/past/works/photography/maskenportrait/ [Accessed 4 Dec. 2017].
Figure 1: SELF PORTRAIT HISTORY. (2017). gertrud arndt Archives | SELF PORTRAIT HISTORY. [online] Available at: https://www.selfportraithistory.com/tag/gertrud-arndt/ [Accessed 4 Dec. 2017].
Figure 2: Morley, M. (2017). The Many Disguises of Bauhaus Photographer Gertrud Arndt. [online] AnOther. Available at: http://www.anothermag.com/art-photography/8976/the-many-disguises-of-bauhaus-photographer-gertrud-arndt [Accessed 4 Dec. 2017].