Reflections on a Year of Daily Self Portraits

In this (unusually long) post I reflect on this year long project, show you video compilations of all the photos in 4 parts, choose some of my favourites (and explain why) and link to a slideshow of all 366 photos.

You may need to click on READ MORE at the bottom of this post to see all of it.

A year of taking a photograph of yourself every day is a big challenge to take on – especially when you have a chronic debilitating illness like ME/CFS.

When I took the first photograph a year ago I wasn’t sure if I would last more than a week or two.  I certainly wasn’t confident that I’d manage a photo every day.  My mantra from the start was “I’m in control of the project – it’s not in control of me“.

I liked the idea of an artistic approach – to approach the same subject, day in day out and to find creative ways to explore it.  To have to force myself to think about different approaches.  Having me as the subject matter meant I would always have easy access to the subject :o)  But I began to realise that even if I was unable to engage artistically every day these daily self portraits would become a record of my life with CFS/ME.

Having been formally diagnosed just five months earlier it also documentated a part of my coming to terms with my chronic illness with all the ups and downs and emotional/physical/mental upheaval that would bring.

There were days when I relished the challenge and indeed I can see the improvement in my photography both technically and creatively. 

There were days when I didn’t want to carry on and then days when I whooped for joy at what I had accomplished.

There were days when I felt so ill, weak or exhausted that I struggled to hold the camera.  Sometimes you’ll see a straightforward head and shoulders shot with a fuzzy focus from my shaking arm. Or on one of those days a shot clearly dictated by wherever I was able to rest the camera in order to press the shutter button.

Looking back through the year of photos I see many things.  It’s a personal journey and I have surprised myself at my willingness (and ability to cope with) sharing this part of myself with the world.  When you are largely housebound and unable to do simple day to day tasks it can result in some pretty honest portraits of yourself.

I see sadness and laughter, pain and joy, exhaustion and bounce, smiles and frowns.  And for a large amount of the pictures – even a lot of the straightforward head and shoulders shots – it evokes memories of the moment I took the photo, the circumstances, the situation, the pain or joy of the day.

1st Quarter: 4 May – 3 Aug 2007

2nd Quarter: 4 Aug – 3 Nov 2007

3rd Quarter: 4 Nov – 3 Feb 2008

4th Quarter: 4 Feb – 3 May 2008

As cliched as it may sound I learnt a lot about myself through doing this.  I’m a little more comfortable in my own skin than when I set out.  I have proven to myself my determination and my aptitude for creativity.  I’ve developed my skills and kindled a passion for photography.  I’ve made many discoveries.

Throughout the year my constant source of strength has been Paul.  He’s been as important to this project as my camera(s) have.  Without his daily support, encouragement and assistance (and sherper duties) I would never have had this opportunity.  I love him very much.

Now that the year is over I feel relieved, happy, sad, emotional and proud. I know I am going to miss it but I’m very glad it’s over. 

What I am really excited about is what comes next.  I am excited to know how my photography will develop  without the rigid rules but with my new found skills and confidence.  I want to know what my photostream will look like without all the self portraits.

I could say so much but in typical ME/CFS fashion I’m struggling with words. Mainly I’d like the photos to do most of the talking.

My Favourite 25 Photos from the Year

I’ve chosen 25 of my favourite photographs from the year with a little explanation of why they are special to me.  It was tough to narrow it down but perhaps my choices will explain a little more of the process, the challenges and the triumphs.


[PHOTO] 14 May 2007 – Self and Chair

One of my favourites overall.  Also the most “popular” photograph on Flickr from the self portrait project. Taken on the day I bought my wheelchair and heralded a new freedom for me.  I knew that the chair would allow me to go out more and suffer less as a consequence. I love the angle in the photo, the light, the composition and the openess of my expression.


[PHOTO] 7 July 2007 – Self

Here with camera on the table, head laid on my cutting board.  It’s a bit silly but signifies for me a move away from just holding the camera out in front and clicking the shutter.  It’s the start of trying new things.  here it’s taking me to the camera instead of the camera to me.  And I love the cutting board stretching beyond the foreground and the seed of the idea of using depth of field (before I understood what it was).


[IMAGE] 14 July 2007 – Self

This close up is a triumph for me.  I have struggled on my worst days with getting self portraits in focus. I can remember taking the photo standing in the hallway trying to keep the camera still enough to get this crispness of focus.  The camera resting against the wall eventually gave the stability I needed. 

200707028_self teapot

[PHOTO] 28 July 2007 – Self Teapot

Firstly, this self portrait reflected in (my brother’s) teapot makes me smile. I look a bit Chad like and I love my right hand gripping the kitchen work surface (I seem to remember to stop me falling over).  I find the kitchen counter stretching away into the distance very pleasing. This also represents my favourite from a series of “reflected” self-portraits.


[PHOTO] 18 August 2007 – Self

This one just makes me laugh.


[PHOTO] 21 August 2007 – Self

The first thing that strikes me is the strong composition. Then I realise it is a strong message of how I was feeling at the time (battling a virus that lasted most of the summer) and I wonder why I see composition first.


[PHOTO] 29 October 2007 – Self

This shot is significant as it sees me playing with exposure and saturation. Results were limited with compact point and shoot but certainly sparked an interest that was to be developed using my new digital SLR. 


[PHOTO] 9 November 2007 – Self

I find this a strong visual image that speaks about some of the struggle of CFS/ME. I like the photo very much but there feels an element of artificial construct about it. I don’t think it is possible to capture a moment or feeling, such as this, in a self-portrait without some dilution. You’re always aware that you are not 100% in that moment because you are the one pressing the button and thinking about the photograph. 


[PHOTO] 11 November 2007 – Self

This is the first photograph in the project that doesn’t have my face (or some part of my face/head) in it. It was a conscious decision to break from this unwritten rule I had created and it proved to be one of the best creative decisions I made.


[PHOTO] 19 November 2007 – Self

One, it makes me laugh. Two, it is a typical daily scene from my life – in bed, with laptop, on the internet, with furry feline interference. 


[PHOTO] 28 November 2007 – Self

Great angle, great silhouette. Me, like I have never seen me. 


[PHOTO] 5 December 2007 – Self

I don’t this is a photo most people would rank as being particularly special and maybe the ordinariness is one of the things that makes it special to me. This is me, in my PJs, standing in the bathroom, taking a snapshot reflected in the mirror. Many days my world is very small. But what I see here is a great light – cast on my face from the camera screen, light cast in my life from love. 


[PHOTO] 6 December 2007 – Self

The one photograph from the year that speaks to me about physical pain and how, maybe, what you feel doesn’t always show to other people. I might expect a photo of the pain to be gnarly and angst-ridden, but I think this photograph is a far more accurate portrayal.


[PHOTO] 14 December 2007 – Self

THE best blurry photo of the year. Me blurred with Christmas fairy lights. 


[PHOTO] 27 December 2007 – Self

When I see this photo I find myself holding my breath. For me it is the best “abstract” self-portrait of the year. It also evokes memories of sitting in the restaurant with Paul, of marvelling at the shiny placemats (it is a reflection in the placemat you can see here) and remembering the desserts we never got to sample in the fridge in the background.


[PHOTO] 1 February 2008 – Self

One of my favourite self-portraits. I love the originality, the genuine pleasure taking it gave me and the enormous cat paws! 


[PHOTO] 12 February 2008 – Self

There is just something about this that makes me smile and makes me wonder if I’m OK. What I remember about this day was having that recurring feeling of not having a clue what photograph to take. Of pacing around downstairs, searching and hoping for inspiration so I end up with the camera supported on the arm of the sofa and come out with a photo that sometimes makes me think I am hanging on to the edge of the world. 


[PHOTO] 27 February 2008 – Self

The Groves family – we laugh every day.


[PHOTO] 29 February 2008 – Self

One of the themes I liked to explore was indirect self-portraits – to have something, maybe even a barrier, between myself and the camera. I had many favourites to choose from. What I like about this particular photograph is that the “real” me is not the main focus and that the cameraphone shows a real-time shot of me, but that all of that is frozen in time. I also like the contrast between the “real” me emerging from the darkness and the “artificial” me beaming through light. 

20080319 sunset 17-45 and self

[PHOTO] 19 March 2008 – Sunset at 17-45 and Self

Part of a series of four photographs showing the progression of the evenings sunset. What is significant about this particular shot is I finally learned how to expose properly and when you look closely you can just see the soft light from the sunset catching the outline of my face.


[PHOTO] 31 March 2008 – Self

It is another typical daily scene and says much the routine of the last year. But it also demonstrates to me a confidence in my use of the camera – angle, perspective, composition, exposure, depth of field and just being able to hold the blummin’ thing. 


[PHOTO] 2 April 2008 – Self

Over the year I often experimented with movement of the camera blurring and trying to create the effect of a double exposure with a single frame on a digital camera. For me this photograph is the culmination of all that trial and error. It is the closest thing to a (digital single frame) double exposure I’ve created, making me a ghostly figure melding with my easel. 


[PHOTO] 3 April 2008 – Self

I love the light, the focus and the exposure. I think it is the most striking capture of my eyes.


[PHOTO] 8 April 2008 – Self

Of all the self-portraits this was the one I spent the most amount of time planning and constructing in my mind. Read more about the story behind day 340


[PHOTO] 3 May 2008 – Self Final Day

Well, it is significant in that it is the last photograph in the year-long project. But, more than that, I see an inner beauty and greater self-confidence in front of the camera than perhaps in any other self-portrait. 

A Year of Photographs

You can see all 366 days (it was over a leap year) in my Flickr set and you can see a slideshow of all the photographs where you can control the speed, see the captons for each photo and click around on ones that interest you.


Posted in Art
9 comments on “Reflections on a Year of Daily Self Portraits
  1. Nina says:

    Rachel – I am speechless. (well, almost:-) Thank you for this review. Choosing your favorites and explaining them is so eloquent. To think that we can grow so much within such restriction makes me smile. Grace.

  2. Mikki says:

    It’s a fab project Rachel and in the last photo you look happy, relaxed and peaceful. Which I guess must be something!

  3. Christine says:

    Congratulations, Rachel! What a wonderful set of portraits! I was particularly taken with the picture of pain, both because it is a fantastic photograph and because I think your meditation on what pain looks like is spot-on–but I also love the next one because you do just radiate peace.

    I can’t wait to see what you do next.

  4. Thank you for sharing your favorites, I happen to like April 11th 2008 – But then, I was always scolded for a child, as an teen, as an adult. I really enjoyed this project, even the knowledge that this project was going on, on going, helped me some nights keep writing.

    So thanks for everything you have given and displayed for us.

  5. Thanks Elizabeth. I’m really touched by your comment. You make me want to do another daily project especially if it means it helps :o)

  6. This is a wonderful collection. You know, I hate taking self-portraits (or anyone else taking photos of me) because I’m so unphotogenic, but seeing these pictures really makes me feel like undertaking the same project. I just feel very self-conscious about having very greasy hair most of the time (not enough energy to wash hair often enough). 😛

  7. Maija – thank you :o) I too hated having my photo taken and when you’re ill with CFS/ME you’re not exactly looking at your best most days!! In a lot of ways taking the photos helped me to overcome that sort of … well .. shame I suppose of looking scruffy and ill and so on.

    You’ll also notice some days when I’ve used blurring effects, taken pics through a bottle, hidden part of my face, taken pics of hands and so on … sometimes this is for art effect, sometimes because I looked AWFUL!

    You’d be surprised how many tricks you’ll learn if you try ;o)

  8. […] will be interesting to see how much life has changed (or not) since I did my first 365 daily photo project of self portraits in 2007/8.  Especially now I’ve been on LDN a new medication for a year and feel it has helped with my […]

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Rachel Groves, Artist
Lichfield, Staffordshire, UK



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