We Are: Self Portraits as Artistic Exploration

How do you see yourself? How do your express yourself? Students from the Southside Occupational High School, a transition center for students with disabilities between 16 and 22 years old, addressed these questions through their art. The students created a series self-portraits using a printmaking process. The result was We Are… Artwork by Students from Southside Occupational High School, an incredible exhibit now on display at the Harold Washington Library Center, along the Ida B. Wells Corridor. If you’re interested in other artists finding their “self” through their work, you might want to browse through our art section at Chicago Public Library.

Self portraits come in many forms, including photographs. Street photographers Vivian Maier and Lee Friedlander used similar methods to capture their own likeness through film, often taking pictures of themselves in reflections of storefront windows or mirrors. Is a “selfie” considered a self portrait?

Though most are digital now, there are a few analog photobooths still in working order. Here are two books that compile photobooth photos from different eras: American Photobooth explores the history of the photobooth featuring photo accompaniment, and Photobooth explores different artists who used photobooth photos as a form of self portraiture. 

Like the students of Southside Occupational High School, some artists use mixed media renderings to express how they see themselves. The book Self-portraits is a great place to start. It profiles 35 artists who were known for either a single or series of self portraits and a brief history about their other work. If you want to take a look at more contemporary works, Portrait Revolution shows international artists weighing in on different artistic mediums and techniques. 

Frida Kahlo and Vincent Van Gogh were two artists who focused heavily in self portraiture. In Frida Kahlo, we explore the artist's life through a feminist lens by contemporary artist Judy Chicago. Van Gogh Face to Face features six essays by art historians on Van Gogh's self portraits accompanied by color pictures of his work.

The exhibit We Are… Artwork by Students from Southside Occupational High School is on display along the Ida B. Wells Corridor at Harold Washington Library Center, extended until the end of the year. 

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