The Self and The Other

OCA study blog | Andrew Fitzgibbon

Artist: John Coplans

When researching alternative takes on self-portraiture, I came across John Coplans, who photographed his feet.



His story (see link) is interesting in that he decided to start making self-portraits of his own body once he reached the age of 60. Many of us prefer to keep our ageing bodies covered and are conditioned by culture and the media as it being nudity being something for the young and beautiful. On top of this, it is often considered impolite to reveal too much flesh in our everyday interactions with others.

When looking at Coplans’ work, my spontaneous reaction is to think, why would someone want to reveal themselves in such a way. We are told:

When John Coplans began photographing his aging body after he turned 60, he embarked on a documentation of age that is alternately humorous, reflective, and disquieting in the closeness of its observation. Seeing himself as an actor, Coplans examines various body parts closely, often quoting art historical postures with his sagging figure.

The work challenges perceptions of what a nude photograph should represent. While the subject is not ‘beautiful’ it is interesting if we allow ourselves to leave behind any squeamishness about viewing this type of nudity (because of our social conditioning). I think it is a similar experience to viewing the ‘edge lands’ – landscapes that are not traditionally beautiful but are nonetheless significant and interesting.

At the root of this type of work is a questioning of whether art needs to be concerned with beauty of form – a view that is often expressed (I most recently heard it in Saul Leiter’s ‘In no great hurry’ documentary). I think it can be about beauty (and that helps with popularity) but it does not necessarily need to be so.

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