Posted by: amartinmhc | November 2, 2014

Laura Swanson and the Anti-Self-Portrait

The Center for Art and Thought often has online exhibits and dialogues by brilliant artists, and on a recent visit to the site, I found the work of Laura Swanson. Her work is a thought-provoking engagement with the conventions of portraiture, the negotiation of the gaze and the body, and more recent genres of photography such as the selfie. We will look at a few of her photographs when we discuss women’s experimental photography in the coming weeks.

From her artist statement:

“Much of her work questions the dominant cultural bias toward the sameness, size, and symmetry of things, especially people. Swanson often references the seemingly theatrical spectacle of her short statured body situated next to her six-foot-tall husband. Compelled to remove their bodies from objectification, she anthropomorphizes ready-made objects and deconstructs conventional portraiture to simultaneously create an image of solidarity and to examine the desire to look at physical difference. The safe-guarding of individual agency is asserted in a series of self-portraits, where she conceals her identity, and with fantastical dwelling spaces, which provide refuge to read critical theory in pursuit of intellectual liberation.”

HIDDEN Exhibit on CA+T

About Laura Swanson


  1. I recently came across two similar series while on tumblr! One of them Kitchen Gods (Link: uses some patterns and floral imagery as a lens/buffer between the subject and the viewer while the other, translated as Art Plant from french (link: uses floral imagery only.

    I hope the links are live in the comment!

    It is interesting how the notion of portraiture changes when it is not a self-portrait. When looking at Laura Swanson’s photos, they seemed so much more intimate than the two series that I later found, because I assumed that hers came from an emotional personal space. With the portraits of other people, I can see how it almost looks like they have been reduced to bodies without that ethos of authorship. The choices with the series feel very naturalized and then also very tightly controlled in terms of what is exposed and what is not. While Swanson’s piece happens ostensibly at home, these shots happened in a studio. But maybe it is not fair to say that since the Swanson’s feel more informal they are more honest? Rather, it is their being self-portraits that makes it feel more honest. These two series feel more geared towards the aesthetics of photography, especially Art Plant.

    In relation to our discussion a few weeks ago in relation to thing culture, I was thinking about how central certain objects and commodities can be in terms of our sense of self. To create a portrait of someone how important can things become? Where is the line between things as public display (such as we saw in our earlier images in class) and things as extensions of who we are? Or do these two ideas collapse into each other?

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