My review of 'Auto-focus' by Susan Bright

I finished reading ‘Auto focus: the self-portrait in contemporary photography’ by Susan Bright, published in 2010 by Thames & Hudson. Bright, a writer and a curator, is a Faculty member at The School of Visual Arts. One can truly appreciate her experience in the field of contemporary photography. This book is probably the best-illustrated collection of contemporary photography dedicated to self-portraiture. I’d recommend this book to anyone interested in contemporary self-portraiture.

There are 75 photographers covered in this 225-page book. The selected photographers are from around the world and have been organized in the book around 5 themes: autobiography, body, masquerade, studio and album, and performance. There are 332 illustrations, 288 in colour. The photos are printed in a decent size given book’s dimensions (24x28cm). The last chapter contains notes that I consider of value for further knowledge on the topic of portraiture and self-portraiture

Bright, who is a writer and a curator, delivers the content in a concise manner while using an intermediate level jargon. In the introduction, Bright covers the practice of self-portraiture from the time photography was invented until the mid-2000s. Several artists are mentioned, some of which are accompanied with an illustration.  Previous knowledge of some of the past and current photographers who dedicated their body of work to self-portraiture may help to appreciate the introduction, such as Claude Cahun, Cindy Sherman, Nikki S. Lee, & Li Wei.

Featured in the autobiography chapter, is My Little Dead Dick which was an online collaboration where 2 skilled photographers, Patrick Tsai and Madi Ju, created a website documenting their lives together. What I find interesting in this book is the presence of photographers who gained recognition via the internet.  The project attracted a large online audience. Online presence appears to be the fastest tool to promote your work.

There are many ways to portray the self. I believe this book is a good compilation of artists who explored their sexuality, identity, ethnicity, and other life challenges with great imagination and artistic flair. Masquerade would be my favourite chapter. I particularly like the works of Janieta Eyre and Tomoko Sawada. Since I’ve been interested in ethnicity, identity, and gender I found out with Bright’s book about photographers who focused on these concepts whom I’ve never heard before.

Self-portraiture is definitely a particular genre of photography. Bright managed to amalgamate a comprehensive guide of some of the most interesting leading photographers in the field of self-portraiture.