The Self-Portrait: A Cultural History review – ‘enthralling’ | Books | The Observer

The Self-Portrait: A Cultural History review – ‘enthralling’ | Books | The Observer

We live in an age of addictive self-portraiture – except that the selfies who so unstoppably document the busy banality of their lives aren’t really making portraits, and it’s unclear whether there is a distinct individual self behind their lookalike grins. A digital camera’s gaze is skin-deep, and can hardly compete with the almost surgical penetration of a painted self-portrait. Photographs are instantaneous and ephemeral; it takes time to represent the advance of sagging, wrinkled mortality, as Rembrandt does when scrutinising his own face. The images James Hall discusses in his enthralling book are therefore exercises in self-appraisal, not self-celebrations like the happy snaps on Facebook. 

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