Erin Ashenhurst

• Visual Narrative & Everyday Oddity •


On a profile page, the self is packaged through words and images to construct a cohesive identity. Dating sites, message boards, blogs, and countless other social media tools encourage users to represent themselves by posting portraits. As tending to an online identity is a solitary endeavor, the user may find herself acting as both subject and photographer, positioning a laptop or angling a camera at the edge of her reach. These 'selfies' are used as evidence of the individual’s personal history, but looks can be deceiving. Manipulated through the subject’s performance and any array of digital filters, profile pictures present an idealized visual narrative, detached from the physical body and lived experience of the subject. In the web-based project, At Arm’s Length, a fictional character creates profile pictures that indicate situations varying in nature from her actual surrounding. Using humour, this project provokes discussion around performativity and digital culture.

The consistently similar performances observable in digital self-portraits seem to stand as literal examples of the Lacanian concept of mimicry and mimesis allowing a transformation of the subject into a picture [1]. The subject relies on cultural archetypes to inform her performance and her ultimate reconstruction as a static, perfected document. This project explores the process of self-portraiture using a phone camera to develop sketches of the amateur photographer. Collaborating with actress Lisa Fletcher, we cast ourselves as research subjects to analyze our own practices of self-portraiture. Using the stories of our subjective experiences to inform the process, we created the identity of a fictional character. It is the self-portraiture of this character that is explored in the project. As viewed through a web browser, At Arm’s Length features an initial set of portraits reflecting those commonly found in profile pictures posted online. These images are matched by a series of wide-shots exposing contrasting environments existing beyond the boundaries of the subject’s framing. The wide-shots reveal further detail about the circumstances of the photographic activity that can be used by the viewer as “predictive devices”. As a portrait transitions into a wide-shot, the viewer is privy to more visual information with which to construct context.