The Sequential Self-Portrait

GIF-animation of the "Revolving" selfportrait by Nadar. Wikimedia Commons.

GIF-animation of the “Revolving” selfportrait by Nadar. Wikimedia Commons.

I was browsing the Internet looking for some information for a potential essay topic on selfies for HIST 5702w, when I came across this GIF of nineteenth-century photographer, Nadar’s “Revolving” Self-Portrait (c. 1865). This GIF and it’s original photograph were too fun to think about, so I decided to write a quick blog post about them! Here are some of my initial (and probably very rough) thoughts about Nadar’s “Revolving” Self-Portrait.

Nadar, Revolving" selfportrait,  Photograph, c. 1865. Bibliothèque Nationale de France.

Nadar, “Revolving” selfportrait, Photograph, c. 1865. Bibliothèque Nationale de France.

First of all, this GIF is based off of a sequence of self-portraits taken by Nadar in almost 360-degrees, but it’s probably safe to say that it was not originally intended to be GIFd. However, it’s title “Revolving” Self-Portrait does imply that it might be intended to be viewed as a sequence or in motion. In each of the twelve frames in the series, Nadar turns ever so slightly so that the camera can catch him from different angles in order to create an impression that the camera was tracking around him. I thought that this was a bit strange because it is unusual to see a photographic self-portrait in this kind of sequence; although, he wasn’t the only one to do this–so did Eadweard Muybridge in his Self-portrait as man throwing, climbing and walking (1893) as part of his project to study the human body in motion. However, Nadar’s self-portrait precedes Muybridge’s photographic series by almost thirty years.

Eadweard Muybridge, Self-portrait as man throwing, climbing and walking, circa 1893. Wikimedia Commons.

Eadweard Muybridge, Self-portrait as man throwing, climbing and walking, circa 1893. Wikimedia Commons.

Perhaps Nadar was influenced by his own aerial photographs of Paris, and wanted to view himself in a new way? Although, it is almost as if he anticipates the invention of motion photography in this image and the potential for animation in technology like Muybridge’s zoopraxiscope.

I could not find much information about this particular self-portrait by Nadar, but it is very interesting to think about. As individual images, the photographs in the series do not all make sense on their own–like why would Nadar want to take almost five pictures of the back of his head (and expose his balding hairline)? It would make more sense for the other frames of the sequence of “Revolving” Self-Portrait to be individual photographs, because they could be seen as studies of Nadar’s face from different angles. However, they are obviously meant to be seen as a series.

Perhaps, as a whole, this series of Nadar’s self-portraits speaks to the way that we see ourselves vs. the way that others can see us. We cannot see ourselves in the round like this on our own, not even in a mirror, but someone else/the camera has the ability to see us in new ways. Each of those other people will see us differently, and over time, all the views will change too–and may become GIFd like this one creating an entirely new way of looking at this sequential self-portrait.

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One comment

  1. Hi Danuta,

    If you haven’t already, you may want to take a look at Edvard Munch’s selfie addiction

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