I took my first self portraits back in 2004 when my family invested in a digital compact camera, but generally with no “real” purpose. I guess I wanted to see what I looked like and did it mostly for fun. Today the purpose of my self portraits have rather evolved into something else. It all changed back in 2011 when I was studying photography in Sweden, Viebäcks School of Photography. We were given the task of taking a new self portrait every month. On some occasions we had to take our portrait with some requirements in order to push ourselves forward, sometimes it could be a technical challenge or an emotional one.
If we look further back, August of 2010. I had a sister who decided that this life was no longer worth living. I had a lot of undealth grief from her death that wanted to come out. For my first self portrait I made in Viebäck, I went to a lake nearby, used a projector and displayed Gunilla’s face (my sister) on my naked body and also lit some candles. I was inspired by a music video “Hjärta” released from a Swedish pop-rock band “Kent” – directed by Robinovich. In the music video, pictures of missing people in Sweden, were projected on persons that were panting, freezing, shaking. Mostly all of them were posing nude outdoors in various conditions.
When I presented my self portrait for my class mates, it felt like I was given the space to actually talk about this in public and I could finally begin to process the death of my sister in a deeper way. I had so much emotions buried deep within myself, that needed to be processed so that I could continue living my life. When I turned 21 years old, just months before her death, Gunilla gave me a painting she made. She had painted two Japanese letters on a red back ground. The letters combined together ment “Family” (it can be somewhat incorrect). I thought a lot about my family and how shattered it was and felt very down from time to time. Luckily I got a lot of support from my class mates, they gave me the energy to push forward. After a few months I could feel something growing inside of me. Hope.
Before all this, in 2010, I also thought about ending my life after my sister, but I got help and felt better for the time being. But in 2013 the way I shot my self portraits changed and become a lot darker. My suicide thoughts had re-emerged and I could imagine myself, while driving to work, turning the steering wheel to the right so that I would crash into the forest and hopefully, die.
One evening I was so fed up on everything, life didn’t seem worth it at all and I was so angry that I had ended up in the same mental state again. So I took my camera, a flash, tripod and a wireless shutter release button. I drove to “Ingbybergen” – about 10 minutes drive from Mariehamn. I went up to a small path, which you have to walk through in order to get to the top of the hill.
I rigged everything up and undressed myself so that I was completely nude. I lay down on the ground and mentally, allowed myself to “die”. I started taking picture while I had these emotions, still being nude on the ground. After a few portraits, I started to feel a lot lighter. It was like the thick clouds in my mind started to break up and disappear. When I got home later that evening, my suicide thoughts had vanished and I felt so much better, almost like someone had pushed a reset button. My suicide thoughts would also be a recurring theme in my head, I guess I’ll never really get rid of them, but now at least, I have a way of dealing with them.
My self portrait series “Dealing with sorrow” has also evolved in the last few years. It’s no longer a way of dealing with my sisters death. It has also become my way of showing my state of mind. Sometimes I can get really stuck inside my own head and by taking a self portrait I can somewhat, step out of my own head and get a perspective of the actual situation.
I can honestly say that without my camera, I probably wouldn’t be alive today. When looking at my self portraits, I remember all the lows and depressive moments I’ve had. It’s very rewarding to have some documentation on how life has been from time to time. It also gives me a calm sensation in my mind, since then I know that it’s actually possible to come back up to the surface after being on the bottom.
If you’ve never tried taking your self portrait, then you should definitely try it out! You don’t need to have a fancy, expensive camera to do this. Use what ever camera you can get a hold on, a smartphone works too. Think outside the box, don’t do a “selfie” where everything should be perfect, ’cause life isn’t perfect. Do something honest and be yourself. You don’t have to show this picture to anyone, the important thing is that you try to express what’s on your mind or if your dealing with things that you can’t simply put words on.
Hopefully it could give you some perspective on where you are in life and also, help you get out of your own head. Perhaps this could give you the energy to move forward in a new direction.