Responding To A Theme

Self Hatred – Self Love

Disclaimer: This article covers sensitive subjects, including a photograph of the act of self harm, which may not be suitable for certain audiences.


The theme of self-hatred and self-love felt like a natural progression from exercise 4.12 Presence/Absence (here). Self-hatred was a prominent aspect of my life for many years. With lots of practice and the development of new skills, self-love and self-care have become important actions in my life. 

My initial plan was to create three photos which represent self-hatred and a further three for self-love, and to display them on opposing sides of a cube, as if they were a dice. Often it has felt like pot luck as to how I feel about myself.

My initial idea developed after speaking with a friend, and I opted to use a Rubik’s Cube. The self is not dualistic, different traits are apparent sometimes, and we can have many elements present at the same time. Using a Rubik’s Cube, and moving the images so that they mix with each other, would highlight the spectrum of love and hate. Moving the cube would provide a dynamic interaction between the photos and the representation of self-harm and self-care. Sticking the photos to the cube was almost impossible with super glue and PVA, which made the Rubik’s Cube unworkable. Because of this I stuck with the original cube idea. Presenting the photos in grid format (above), with space around each photo, was an idea developed because of the feedback of OCA photography student Andrew (Andy’s Blog). I have been able to move towards self-care and love by allowing my self-hatred to be surrounded by the love of the universe. Allowing it to exist in the vastness of space has meant it can be loved and nurtured. 



Although my assignments are presented on-line, I wanted to feel and interact with my photos. Too often they are left on my hard drive, and I want more than that with my photography. Art is nebulous, sometimes flowing and at others grating. I want my art to be more than a visual and mental act.

I also wanted to over-sew two photo’s in the style of Gerhard Richter’s over-painting. Mixed media art has become important to me, and I am eager to experiment.

I’m quite disgusted with the photo of myself. I struggle to look at any image of myself, so I chose the worst photo and with poor image quality, and I then stitched over the top. It’s a tricky process and overall I’m not impressed with the results, but I do like the lips, and the white dots from where each stitch manipulated the photo paper. The needlework looks like medical stitches, and I’ve previously had many self-inflicted injuries sewn up in A and E, the correlation worked well. However, over-sewing a photo was awkward. If stitches were too close the paper would tear, which meant I couldn’t produce the fine work that I wanted to produce. I chose not to apply this technique to a second photo because it’s too cumbersome. However, I am going to practice this in future. There is a saying that shame is about who I am, guilt is about who I am. The colours of the over stitching are about shame and guilt. The guilt is represented by red thread, I’m a guilty sinner who requires a blood sacrifice for salvation. The purple and black represent shame. They are dark colours, heavy, dreary and dirty.

I chose to create the photo of the cross with blood because it has religious symbolism, which reflects the shame I have experienced just for existing. The shame that springs from my childhood experiences was exacerbated by the religious upbringing I had. I could never live up to the expectations of those in religious power, nor of the scriptures. Apparently I am a sinner, and not only are my actions sinful, but so are my thoughts. I’ve paid for my sin’s in blood.

Self-harming has not been an easy or enjoyable behaviour for this assignment. But as it was a daily behaviour for many years I felt it was a justifiable action to take even though I hadn’t self harmed in over two years. I used to cut derogatory words into my legs, and I chose the words “fat cunt” because there are times that I internally call myself this. It’s hard having an eating disorder, and it’s correlation with body-dismorphia it’s obvious within me. However painful these thoughts are, I am proud of the changes that I am currently making. I often find I am in a place of nurturing myself in response to a cruel inner monologue.  On the whole the self harming for this assignment has been a positive experience. It has affirmed that I’m no longer in a place of self-hatred, and I was able to naturally practice self-care for a couple of days afterwards.

Producing photography that involved the act, and results of self harm is pushing the boundaries of what is graphically acceptable. Because of this I have posted trigger warnings on my blog a few hours prior to posting any images. The truth is self-harm is a part of my history, and I am a visual artist who uses photography to explore and express myself. Personally I believe that my photography has been authentic, as tasteful as possible for the content,  and I have presented it within an appropriate context.

My self-love photo’s included macro photography, the side of my bath, and a card that I wrote to myself.  Macro photography is pure enjoyment and a spiritual connection for me. My bath has many fossils, rocks and minerals, and I always have a multitude of shower gels. Having difficulties with body image has made it necessary to have a safe bathing space. I regularly write myself texts telling me that I love myself.

Love is not a feeling, it’s an action, and I need to practice loving kindness towards myself on a daily basis. I cannot afford to wait until I feel better about myself in order to take affirmative action. I have to act my way into feeling better about myself.

The lighting was a combination of daylight and incandescent. I opted for the ambience provided by natural daylight, and I didn’t feel that it was necessary to use flash or additional light sources for this assignment. However, I changed the white balance on the photos of the bath and the card to add some warmth.

My execution of this assignment has, at times, been emotionally challenging and also rewarding. I feel excited about the use of the cube and the over-sewing. It’s wonderful to push myself, to learn new techniques and experiment, and to play with physical photos.

The biggest joy has been the realisation that I love myself, I may not like how I look, but hey, progress is progress.

Photography is so much fun, and it has helped me to take care of myself, to connect with Goddess, and it has improved how I feel about myself. It’s hard to convey the extent of how photography has changed my life.

The Individual Photos

Self Hate




Self Love




The contact sheets can be seen here

Rubik’s Cube Update



Following feedback from OCA Foundations in Photography student Jonathan Kiernan (here), I made a second attempt with the Rubik’s Cube. This time I cut the photos into cubes prior to sticking them onto the cube, and tried to stick them into place by using double-sided tape. This technique was better, however, cutting the tape was a nightmare as the tape kept sticking to the scissors. Making use of a five by five cube meant the photos were divided two small to be neat, and didn’t provide a large enough surface area for the tape to stick the photo’s. The solution would be to use a larger Rubik’s Cube which is also only three by three. I think the best technique to glue the photo’s to the cube would be to use PVA on the cube and photo as a surface primer, and then to make use of super glue as the adhesive.


I always welcome constructive feedback and critique. Please feel free to comment and explain either what you like or don’t like, and why. 





31 Replies to “Responding To A Theme”

  1. I don’t know why, but as I was reading this and looking at the picture of you it reminded me of something. Every time my parents said or did hurtful things to me I would find pictures of myself and tear them up to shreds and cry. It’s sad how I allowed the anger that was justified on my part to turn inward and destroy me. You have a lot of courage posting this. We never know what anyone’s journey is about. Thanks for being brave enough to find healing and for sharing the process. I pray things just get better for you! 🙏❤️

    Sent from Yahoo Mail for iPhone

    Liked by 3 people

  2. I find this post very moving Richard.
    Some of your self analysis resonates with me although I hadn’t considered it before reading the post. I think it is great that photography has helped you express yourself and hopefully vent a lot of the inner turmoil. On a concept note I love the idea of the Rubic’s cube, maybe you could have printed a cut guide on your pictures (grid) to allow precise sizes for the small squares and then used a contact adhesive or double sided tape? Just an idea. A very good assignment Richard which certainly elicited a reaction from me.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. A really personal exploration Richard.
    Yes, the content and use of the ‘c’ word are shocking but totally necessary to express what it’s like to live in your skin. I especially love the grid presentation. I’m sure many of us ‘hate’ photographs of ourselves too but you’ve used your own experiences to expand on this. I’m very impressed with your sewing skills too, the concept works well in this assignment. I’ve attempted over sewing myself but really despise sewing so never got very far ! Well done and how wonderful that your art has enabled you to face up to your ‘demons’ and tackle them face on x

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thankyou Judy. I’ve repeatedly checked myself to ensure my concept and context were appropriate for the message i was wanting to express. The over-sewing is definitely something that I want to get to grips with. It’s not an easy process, but I do think I can improve upon it.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. you were very brave to undertake this. i’m so impressed. self-harm is something that we don’t talk about very much, or if people do, they get the impression that it’s limited to a few razor cuts on the arms or legs. it can be so much worse than that. thank you for sharing this and be kind to yourself today.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. A profound and emotionally challenging set of photographs that capture the turmoil and confusion (?) of perceived self brilliantly as expressed through self harm, and thankfully self love.
    Your brave and eloquent photographic exploration deserves acclaim and recognition in my view.
    I think the cube, set alongside the gallery of individual images could be a powerful installation. I imagine to hold the cube and move it around could have a therapeutic and cathartic effect for many to enable discussion of this very challenging subject.
    So well done Richard. Thank you.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thankyou so much Sarah. I agree that showing the self love is important, it gives the viewer some space to breath, and it gives me the space to continuing persuing healthier living skills. I intend to approach a particular curator in London once I have moved. I saw an article about an exhibition they hosted in the guardian and they are certainly comfortable in pushing the boundaries.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. This really is amazing. Even though it feels as if I shouldn’t say that. I mean, is it right that I should want to see more of this? Aren’t we conditioned to shut the ugly/real things away, out of sight? But I’m just so, so interested in how everything works on the inside, I suppose (that fascination I have with the hidden), and your work gives me a glimpse of the inside (well, more than a glimpse, actually). I feel as if I’m seeing something I shouldn’t stare at and yet here I am, staring. Such brave, powerful exploration. Such a wonderful way to show something that so few people see/understand (or want to). I frequently draw parallels between your work and my thoughts. Funny how comfortable I am with body and yet delving deeper (even though I have tried) is always so uncomfortable. I find your work–it’s honesty–so inspiring.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thankyou so much Andy. It means so much to me. There are many aspects and genres of photography that I’m passionate about. But the exploration of self and psyche is the kind of work I want to explore and push. There’s something incredibly powerful in the vulnerability of ‘authentic’ photography. I find it’s a self portrait of the soul.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. And I’m glad you stare. I’m grateful you stare. Knowing that my photography impacts others is important to me as an artist. I stare, it impacts upon me, I create for me, and part of my creation is the desire to impact others as well.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. This is such a powerful post- searingly honest and extremely painful and yet with a message of love, although I sense that the pain may still have the greater weight. The rubric’s cube idea is very clever and also suggests the ability/opportunity to manage the outcome, albeit it with some difficulty, as opposed to a dice which is more random. A wonderful piece of story-telling.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Thank you so much Chris. Sometimes the pain, shame and innate dissatisfaction with who I am is strong, sometimes self love, like and care are strong, sometimes theyre balanced. It certainly takes a lot of effort to care for and about myself at the moment. But I do notice my progress.


  7. You were very courageous to take the risk and tackle a taboo subject in such a dramatic way. I’m still in two minds about whether it was actually necessary in order to get the message across. Not many people get to see the reality of what self harm looks like. It’s an in your face exposure that is all the more powerful knowing that you actually did it. I’m relieved you were able to manage it – and yourself – without falling into old practices and patterns of behaviour again. A bit like method acting, I guess. High risk.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s high risk, but self harm was such an intrinsic part of my life for so long. It was my reality. My everyday. My norm. And it remains so for such a large amount of people.

      People who self harm are often shunned, invalidated and treated with a shocking lack of compassion. As long as it remains hidden, a taboo, something to be ashamed of, then recovery will be a lonely process. Recovery is possible, and practicing self care isn’t easy.

      I could think of no other way for me to express these aspects of my reality in a meaningful way.

      Liked by 1 person

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