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Female Photographers Explore Self-Portraiture in the Age of the Selfie

ByGillian WearingandIlona Szwarc

Photographers Ilona Szwarc and Gillian Wearing share their work in our annual photo issue.

For our annual photo issue we reached out to 16 up-and-coming photographers and asked them which photographer inspired them to pursue the medium. Then we approached their "idols" to see if they would be willing to publish work in the issue as well. What was provided, we think, creates a unique conversation about the line of influence between young artists and those more established in their careers. This post features work by Ilona Szwarc and her chosen idol, Gillian Wearing.

Ilona Szwarc is a Polish-born photographer living and working in Los Angeles. She received her MFA in photography from Yale University. Her work addresses the relationship between women, memory, and time. "I make art about unfinishedness," explains Szwarc, including images of women in a suspended state of preparation and women who never arrive in their final form. "But I still find comfort in a supposedly clear vision of my future. I am interested in what is seen and unseen." In Szwarc's featured series, Indeed A New Woman, she cast two doppelgängers, whom she considers to be the American versions of herself. In many of her portraits, she photographs herself quite literally through the eyes of her subject. "I use the doppelgänger's eye as a staging ground," she explains. "I watch my identity disintegrate in the eyes of my double. As her eye tears up, my portrait becomes more and more distorted, and completely blurred in the final image of her bloodshot eye."

Szwarc chose Gillian Wearing as her idol for the 2017 Photo Issue because both of their work speaks to the idea of memory—of childhood, other women, lost self, culture, and family. "I thought Indeed A New Woman related to Gillian's work" Szwarc explains. "Observing her intricate masking, her talent at embedding a dysphoric question in a seemingly sealed image, pushed me forward in my work. I scrutinized myself, I concealed myself, I tricked the viewer into thinking my doubles are myself. In a parallel (but dimensionally separated) move to hers, I tried to push towards the outer limits of self-portraiture."

Photo by Ilona Szwarc

Gillian Wearing, Me and Claude in Mirror, 2017
Bromide print, 21 3/8 x 16 1/4 inches; 54.3 x 41.3 cm (framed), 20 x 15 inches; 51 x 38 cm (unframed), edition of 6, 2 APs Courtesy of the artist, Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York and Maureen Paley, London (TBG 18267)

Gillian Wearing is a British artist from Birmingham, England. She studied art at the Chelsea College of Art and is most known for her work with photography and video. Wearing was awarded the prestigious Turner Prize—a British fine arts award, in 1997. In 2007, she was named a lifetime member of the Royal Academy of Arts in London.

Wearing is known for her conceptual interpretation and documentation of everyday life, and how identity is influenced, perceived, and experienced in both private and public spheres. Unlike the journalistic approach to documentary, Wearing's work blurs the line between reality and fiction. Her latest project, Behind the Mask, Another Mask, is part of a dual-solo exhibition with French artist Claude Cahun at the National Portrait Gallery in London, addresses topics surrounding identity and gender through the avenue of self-portraiture, masquerade, and performance.

Gillian Wearing, Cahun and Wearing, 2017
Bromide print, 21 3/8 x 17 1/2 inches; 54.3 x 44.5 cm (framed), 20 x 16 1/8 inches; 51 x 41 cm (unframed), edition of 6, 2 APs
Courtesy of the artist, Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York and Maureen Paley, London (TBG 18268)

Photo by Ilona Szwarc
Photo by Ilona Szwarc

Gillian Wearing, At Claude Cahun's Grave, 2015
Silver gelatin print, 17 3/4 x 13 3/4 inches; 45 x 35 cm (framed), 4 1/2 x 3 1/2 inches; 11.5 x 9 cm (unframed), edition of 6, 2 APs
Courtesy of the artist, Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York and Maureen Paley, London (TBG 18269)

Photo by Ilona Szwarc