Our English class recently had an enriching and mind-blowing experience. We toured the Getty Center, met world-renowned Japanese artist Tomoko Sawada, and learned about the art of self-portraiture.
The special day was part of Community Photoworks, a partnership of the Getty Museum and 826LA, a nonprofit that supports students with their writing skills and helps teachers inspire their students to write. Community Photoworks introduces students to photography, helps us explore connections between art and writing, and strengthens our writing skills.
After discussing identity in our “Becoming Who I Am” unit in class, the Getty Center trip was the perfect way to extend our practice into the real world and end our unit with a bang. We explored the work of many different artists with their own individual spin on self-portraiture and realized that self-portraits do not just have to be of a face, but can be of a leg, arm, or even a collection of items that represent one’s personality or identity.
Breaking the Rules of Self-Portraiture
As we traveled through the J. Paul Getty Museum looking at photographs in the archives and the permanent collection, we noticed that the rules of self-portraiture are not written in black and white. By definition, a self-portrait is a mode of self-expression that an artist explores through different aspects of style and form. While one piece might capture an artist’s face or features, an equally respected self-portrait might include various items that capture the artist’s identity.
We have all been taught that what is on the inside is more important than what is on the outside, and this lesson was reflected in the art we observed and appreciated. We learned a lot about the artists and their identities, as they showcase who they really are instead of just their appearance. In their photos, they incorporate what sets them apart from the crowd, which allows the audience to see them as not only as photographers but also as innovative, expressive human beings.
In class, we have been reading Brené Brown’s book Daring Greatly, and we found parallels between the book and the artworks at the Museum. In Daring Greatly, Brown explains how allowing yourself to be vulnerable can be a major strength and a stepping-stone on the way to living wholeheartedly. Making self-portraits is the product of daring greatly.
Touring the Getty, we saw many artists go outside the norm in their portraiture. For example, we saw an image of an artist’s foot, which speaks to the outside-the-box way of thinking in which a self-portrait does not have to only be of a face. Miyako Ishiuchi, another artist on view in the museum’s photography wing, depicted cropped images of hands and feet as a means of reflecting the hardships of her subjects’ lives.
Artist Tomoko Sawada was an inspiration to meet because of her creative outlook on self-portraiture. Her self-portrait series Omiai is based on a matchmaking tradition in Japan.
After returning from our trip to the Getty Center, students expressed their appreciation for Tomoko. Naomi, one of our classmates, said, “Tomoko was insightful, and her work influenced me to take photos.” Claire, another classmate, stated, “She was willing to share her insight and advice with us on photography and her own inspiration behind her work. She also gave us helpful pointers on our own self-portraits.” Tomoko’s creative way of thinking encouraged us to embrace our uniqueness when it was our turn behind the lens.
In our thank-you notes to the Getty Museum, one student wrote, “Thank you for showing us the artistic side of photography, which totally changed my perspective of photography overall.” Cameron Rogers also made a class video of our experience.
The Getty trip was an amazing experience that not only allowed us to extend our learning outside the classroom but also allowed us to be ourselves and engage our innermost feelings through creative thinking.
Our self-portraiture exhibition, Identity 37, will be displayed at Coffee Connection in Mar Vista from December 7 to 18, 2015. Our artists’ statements, which we worked on in class with volunteers from 826LA, will be shown along with our portraits. All are welcome and invited to see our photographs as we extend learning outside our classroom and into the community.
Text of this post © Gracie Globerman, Marel Pryor, and Jackson Ross. All rights reserved.