chapter  22
Pages 6

In recent years there have been shattering shifts in how we view ‘autobiographical’ or ‘self-portrait’ work in photography. Emergent theories of subjectivity and identity seem to have rendered obsolete any idea of a single unitary self made visible by an interpretation of surface appearances and the capturing of ‘essence’. By extension, perhaps we can conclude that the notion of the conventional portrait is in tatters…but we don’t yet know it. Instead, the term ‘the construction of subjectivity’ has emerged: ‘Who is this “I” who I seem to be?’ ‘How do I know that?’ ‘How did I become her?’ ‘Is she fact or fiction?’ By extension other questions can then be formulated: ‘Who are other people?’ ‘By what set of processes do I know that?’ Finally it is feasible to ask To which groups do I choose to be allied rather than assigned?’ This subjectivity is neither ahistorical nor universal. Rather, it is specific, a web of psychic processes, uneven, split, contradictory and potentially antagonistic to itself, formed and articulated within specific historical moments and contexts, in which I oscillate between being the object of others’ discourses and the uneasy subject of my own. Nor can my subjectivity be unproblematically represented through other conventional codes and genres of photography, though it is grounded in them. Identities are acknowledged and experienced now as fractured and multiple, mobile and discontinuous, changing over time. And though we are identified through the fragmenting and dividing identifications of religion, race, ethnicity, sexuality, social and economic class, just as important is how we inhabited and struggled against ways in which our identities were also constructed for us within various discourses such as education,

medicine and law: discourses which help to set in place potential matrices of disempowerment for countless millions. Other aspects of identity under fresh scrutiny have been the ways in which we are addressed through the media. Here we are hailed or interpellated through visual and verbal signs in such a way that we feel that somebody knows ‘I’ actually exist (rather than, as is the case, being the hypothesized psychological constructs of a bewildering variety of commercial organizations to which we are target audiences for various forms of consumption). Similarly, within radical political theory identity has shifted from simple notions of class being fixed, moving from a theorization of the ‘labour force’ and ‘point of production’ into complexities of identities and subcultures constructed through ‘consumption’, and the ways in which we are caught up in discourses of desire. New militant identities and groupings have also emerged in recent years, for example around disability, sexual orientations, different cultural histories, feminism(s) and peace movements. In the work offered here, at the tip of this vast theoretical mountain of representation lie tiny human beings caught up in webs of shifting identities and identifications.