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self portraits and awkwardness

About a month ago, a portrait photographer named Madeleine Waller visited me at the studio, on a mission to shoot series of portraits of children's book creators. I'd recently found a second-hand dress with a wonderfully over-the-top Princess Di collar and liked the way that it made me look a bit fussy and ornate, sort of like one of those old paintings you see in grand old houses, of Georgiana Duchess of Devonshire, and the like.

Photo by Madeleine Waller

I love drawing from those sorts of paintings, so I made a drawing of this one, too. (With added Sea Monkeys.)

It was kind of strange looking at the photos, because I think Madeleine was quite keen to catch me in serious, reflective poses. It's is not something I do naturally when in front of the camera; I'm a bit nervous of pretentious-looking Serious Author photos. Like, look at me, see how deep and sensitive I am. My studio mates and I vy at least weekly to see who can look stoopidest in front of the camera.

Photo by Madeleine Waller

But my dress helped me with this, by making me look like a total bimbo. I'd never worn it before. While the collar looked loverly, the dress had been almost floor-length, and I'd taken it up to what I thought was just above the knee. I'm a bit bad with hemming, I never know quite what I'm going to get. This dress is made of some weird poly fabric that rides up whenever I lift my arms, which I would have realised on the day if there had been a mirror around. So I was having fun reclining on a studio sofa for the friendly photographer as she snapped and snapped. And then when I saw the photos later, I realised my skirt had ridden up so high that it was, well... quite racy.

ARRGGGGH. I mean, it doesn't look bad, exactly, but it wasn't quite the image I try to put forward as 'children's author'. And Madeleine didn't know me well enough to know that wasn't my intention. Red face.

I won't post those photos here, but you can see one on her website, where she has some really amazing work. My favourite is a shot of my friend Viviane Schwarz in the awesome superhero dress she made from a duvet cover.

Photo by Madeleine Waller

Learning how to be photographed is another one of Those Things They Don't Teach Us in Art College. I never realised how much it would be a part of being an illustrator. I used to be terrible with photos and avoided them. Then I thought I was getting better at it until my sister and friends started teasing me about always having the same rictus grin in every Facebook photo.

...But what is one supposed to DO? I'm still trying to figure this out [cue self-conscious laugh]. So many insecurities flit through our heads when we're being photographed: Do I look okay? Am I vain for trying to look better than in real life? Can I use this picture for one of those festival photos they're always asking for? Will this picture help sell my books? ...Am I being vain? They're kind of the same questions we ask ourselves when we draw our self portraits. Will everyone think I'm being vain? Is this just irritating self-indulgence? Should I displace the embarrassment by posting a photo of the cat instead?

But drawing self portraits is one of those basic things we're supposed to do to hone our drawing skills; Van Gogh did it, Rembrandt did it. Photographer Cindy Sherman does it, everyone does it. And then I read about people who have serious addiction problems with posting Internet selfies, and I think, right, it's time to book a slot with the therapist.

Check out Madeleine's two new books with Hoxton Mini Press:

These people are quite brave to pose for her - in their swimming costumes - and they're beautiful photos.


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 4th, 2014 11:25 pm (UTC)
That second picture with the chipped paint really has an air of "her Ladyship Duchess McIntyre in her ruined-down castle".

I don't hink I have a single picture of myself that I like. Maybe I sould hire a professional photographer to have real portrait made of me.
Jun. 7th, 2014 10:58 pm (UTC)
It's nice to have a good portrait! My husband doesn't have all that many photos from when he was younger, and I'm rather sad about that; I'd liked to have seen more of what he looked like, how he dressed, the things that surrounded him, etc. The few I have are treasured items.
Jun. 10th, 2014 10:17 pm (UTC)
You and Viviane both look great! I need to find a good photographer! :) I am a guest of the San Diego Comic Con, biggest comic con in AMerica, and the best I could do was send them a selfie.
Jun. 12th, 2014 12:52 pm (UTC)
Ha, sometimes selfies are the best photos! :D I often end up using them instead of photos I get people to take, just because other people so often pan way out and get half a photo full of blank wall or ceiling. I once lectured a room full of book publicists about how they REALLY need to learn how to use their cameras. You'd think it would be a basic tool of their trade, but a lot of them don't know about framing a picture or setting up a nice background. Or even getting the author and the book in the same shot; one will get cut out. And our trade mag is full of photos of people all standing in a row, smiling. Page after page.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )


Sarah McIntyre

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