Picturing Ourselves: Photography and Autobiography

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In spite of several updates and thorough ongoing discussions on this definition, mainly around the notion of autofiction or semi-autobiography, the basic insights of Philippe Lejeune still hold, at least in the field of writing.


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The expansion of this theory to other, more specifically visual fields raises however a different set of problems, of which Linda Haverty Rugg, author of a book on autobiography and photography Picturing Ourselves , Chicago UP, , is an excellent specialist. In this new book, she tackles an even more complex domain, that of autobiography in film, a phenomenon that cannot be limited to the mere subfield of the autobiographical documentary, more easily compatible with Lejeune's framework. Rugg's approach is characterized by a robust theoretical reflection on the problem under scrutiny.

Picturing Ourselves: Photography and Autobiography by Linda Haverty Rugg

On the one hand, she argues very convincingly that the notion of the author's self deserves to be enlarged, in order to include a certain number of elements that may not be directly autobiographical in the sense of Lejeune, but that nevertheless contribute to the shaping of the director's image and hence self through a cinematographic representation. On the other hand, she proposes no less cleverly to question as well the classic idea of self and selfhood as something to be represented by the author and eventually recognized by the reader or viewer , but as a process that is being shaped via a dialogue between maker and receiver.

The concept of self-projection, which involves both the director and the spectator, help her solve this twofold problem. First, self-projection makes us see that the author's person is not always-already there and then reflected in film but that it is the result of a set of precise events and interventions that hint at the progressive construction of a self. Second, self-projection is something that can only happen if there is a spectator who is willing and capable of taking the cues and allow for the emergence of such a self during, but also after and before the viewing for the viewing can start before the actual projection of the film, for instance when the spectator prepares himself or herself by reading an interview, and in quite some cases it continues after the viewing itself.

Finally, the notion of self-projection has also strong dialogical overtones, for it is not only the maker but also the viewer who participate in the process and thus mutually construct their 'own' self: the film addresses a spectator who addresses a director, and vice versa. The Public Image Robert Hariman. Photography, Trace, and Trauma Margaret Iversen.

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Read an excerpt from the introduction. Photography has transformed the way we picture ourselves. Although photographs seem to "prove" our existence at a given point in time, they also demonstrate the impossibility of framing our multiple and fragmented selves. Obsessed with self-image, Mark Twain and August Strindberg both attempted unsuccessfully to integrate photographs into their autobiographies.

Picturing Ourselves

While Twain encouraged photographers, he was wary of fakery and kept a fierce watch on the distribution of his photographic image. Strindberg, believing that photographs had occult power, preferred to photograph himself.

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Because of their experiences under National Socialism, Walter Benjamin and Christa Wolf feared the dangerously objectifying power of photographs and omitted them from their autobiographical writings. Yet Benjamin used them in his photographic conception of history, which had its testing ground in his often-ignored Berliner Kindheit um Confronted with multiple and conflicting images of themselves, all four of these writers are torn between the knowledge that texts, photographs, and indeed selves are haunted by undecidability and the desire for the returned glance of a single self.

Table of Contents.