Universiteit Leiden

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PhD project

First person

Does the sitter have agency in the making of a photographic portrait? And if so how?

Judith van IJken

Photographic portraits have become omnipresent: they inhabit our private realm, public life and, due to social media, the space in between. Photographic portraits relate to ideas of individual identity. They intend to capture, reject or define our identity or even act as avatars in online situations. Judith van IJkens’ research First person looks at contemporary individual identity through the prism of making a photographic portrait. The research is a social, cultural and artistic analysis of this situation that involves sitter, photographer and setting. It creates insights in the construction of photographic portraits and, more importantly, contributes to understanding of contemporary individual identity. The relation between the theoretical component and the practice is two directional. Theory informs her practice as photographer while the practice tests and nuances the theoretical knowledge.

The research question, 'Does the sitter have agency in the making of a photographic portrait? And if so how?' centers around the sitter. Though it might, incorrectly, create the impression that the research focuses on the sitter only (instead of on all the elements involved in making a photographic portrait), this choice of words addresses the situation in front of the camera as well as individual identity. Van IJken developed the research method ‘the making of a photographic portrait’. Instead of focussing merely on the final outcome (the photographic portrait), this method considers all the elements in making a photographic portrait, such as the photographer, the setting, the editing, etc. As a consequence it considers documents of this session, for instance a film, a text or images of my sketchbook as possible material. Role-play, whereby the sitter is asked to play a role, is at the heart of this method. It shows her directions as photographer. And, more importantly, role-play is a way to invite a current issue (beyond revealing a person) into a photographic session.

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