chapter  12
11 Pages

Witnessing Illness

Phenomenology of Photographic Self Portraiture
WithElizabeth Lanphier

Photographic self-portraiture as illness narrative situates artist and viewer in an ethical relationship of mutual meaning-making in which other and self witness an individual illness experience, and possibly even death. This chapter analyzes the final work of American performative photographer Hannah Wilke (1940–1993), Intra Venus, in which Wilke communicates unique, and in some ways provocative, messages about illness. Phenomenologically analyzing photography offers insights into the nature of the relationship between a photograph’s viewer and the photograph on view. Visual encounters afford a particular kind of knowledge that is both made available and circumscribed by the perspectival limits posed by sight. Photographic self-portraiture is an opportunity for seeing the self as other and sharing a perspective with others. For these reasons the photographic medium offers a unique contribution to a contemporary ethics of care. In an era in which self-portraiture is easily accessible to the general public and woven into social media interactions, these “selfie” images could provide a tool for nurturing ourselves and others, broadening our understanding and experiences of illness, death, and dying.