Terence Chan Photography

Self-portrait as Dorian Gray

In the original novel by Oscar Wilde, Dorian Gray decides to pursue superficial beauty at the expense of all else, wishing that a portrait of him as a beautiful young man would lose its beauty over time rather than himself. He goes on to indulge in this myth of perfect beauty through a life of moral duplicity and as his soul becomes gradually corrupted, so his portrait becomes gradually disfigured. Throughout its history, much of photography has also been concerned, some would say even obsessed, by the idea of outward beauty and perfection. In this series of images, it is not so much corruption of the soul as the potential for corruption in the photographic process itself that I wish to explore. Since its invention, various techniques for manipulating a photographic image have always existed which facilitate photography's quest for beauty and perfection; indeed the possibility of such artificial manipulation is inherent in the technology itself and new developments in digital technology have vastly stretched the limits of these possibilities. Leaving aside any ethical questions posed by such artificial photographic manipulations, the images here serve as a commentary on the limits of the technology itself; to what extent does the quest for a certain aesthetic ideal of "beauty" result in the degradation of some other quality about the image?

The first image in the series is a photographic self-portrait processed in a "natural" way with regard to contrast, colour-balance and so on. This is then heavily re-touched to produce an idealized image, as is common practice in many fashion and celebrity portraits. A series of manipulations is then applied to this image in an exaggerated way to produce a series of "disfigurements". Throughout this process, the reflected image in the mirror is left unchanged, hinting at the reality behind the artifice. As in the original story of Dorian Gray, after this multitude of "sins", the last image in the series reverts to a self-portrait in its "original" state.

On a technical level, although these are digital photographs processed digitally, I have resisted the temptation to toy with the full panopoly of digital wizardry that is available with digital photographic processing software and have restricted myself to techniques which are - at least in principle - available in the darkroom, such as adjusting the values and colour-balance, solarization etc.

Self-portrait 2008
Self-portrait (Idealized)
Self-portrait (1st Transformation)
Self-portrait (2nd Transformation)
Self-portrait (3rd Transformation)
Self-portrait 2008