Research Point: Self-Absented Portraiture

Maria Kapajeva

Maria Kapajeva grew up in both, Soviet and Post-Soviet Estonia. She moved to the United Kingdom ten year ago, where she studied photography, gaining a BA and then an MA at The University of Westminster. Kapajeva expands her photography practice to also include, working with video, found images and textile crafts. Along with her practice, Kapajeva teaches at University for the Creative Arts, Farnham.

With the use of social and cultural stereotypes, much of Kapajeva’s work explores the representation, role and position of women in contemporary society. ‘I grew up with the idea that marriage is the main destiny for a woman. One of my reasons to ‘run away’ from my country was the hope that I can escape from the pressure of that ‘destiny’. When I started to study photography, I came across many debates, writings, artworks, which reflected the questions around gender equality or differences. With all the newly gained knowledge, I tried to think about my position in it.’

Still within the subject of self-portraiture, the course text states that ‘some photographers use other people to stand in for themselves‘. It then introduces Maria Kapajeva as a photographer who uses ‘people in a metaphorical sense’ to say something about herself. Kapajeva’s ongoing series, A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Woman, features various career women photographed within their working environment. The women, like Kapajeva, emigrated to the United Kingdom to fulfill their potential, and escape the limited prospects of their home countries. ‘Working in collaboration with them, I try to find the ways to photograph each of them as a unique and strong personality in their own working environment. For me these women are my peers and represent a new generation of impassioned young intellectuals who are not afraid to undertake risks and break the rules.’

Sophie Calle

I’ve previously written a blog post on the work of Sophie Calle. I’ve included the link here.

Sophie Calle’s series, Take Care of Yourself, has been described by Louise Neri as ‘a tour de force of feminine responses to a breakup letter that Calle received by e-mail from a man’. At first, Calle didn’t know how to respond to the letter, but after showing it to friends, the idea for the series developed. Calle asked 107 women to answer professionally, and analyze the breakup letter that she had received from her boyfriend. She didn’t want the women expressing sentiment for her, just an honest interpretation of the letter. The series features a wide range of media including song and dance, scientific analysis, a crossword puzzle, origami, a shooting target, a forensic study and photographs. The title, Take Care of Yourself  is taken from the parting words of the letter.

Final thoughts

I understand and agree with the inclusion of Sophie Calle’s series, Take care of yourself, within the genre of Self-Portraiture. Calle’s personal break-up letter was reinterpreted and included within the project. The letter was after all addressed to her. However, to say that Maria Kapajeva’s series, A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Woman, is self-portraiture is a bit of a stretch. Yes, it features portraits of women who, like her, left their home to pursue a better life. To call it autobiographical, I’m not so sure. This section of the course on Self-absented Portraiture, has really burred the boundaries of Self-Portraiture. I’m not at all sure now where a photograph starts and stops being autobiographical.


Asandi, I. (2015) ‘Russian mail order-brides and traditional quilts’, Dry Magazine, 24 July, available: [accessed 7 Oct 2015].

Boothroyd, S. (2014) Maria Kapajeva’, Photoparley [online], 13 May, available: [accessed 7 Oct 2015].

Kapajeva, M. (2015) ‘Maria Kapajeva‘ [online], available: [accessed 7 Oct 2015].

Neri, L. ‘Sophie Calle’, Interview Magazine, available: [accessed 22 Apr 2015].

Romano, A. (2015) ‘Observations from several Sides of the Lens: on Women, Fabric and Space in Maria Kapajeva’s Photographs’, The Courtauld Institute of Art, 9 Jan, available: [accessed 7 Oct 2015].


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