Self Imaging ~ Poets

Self Imaging ~ Poets

There was a shift in sensibility in the Romantic movement which emphasised individualism and the sense of the self. As we know many artists are self-important. This was carried to an extreme with the cult of the poet as genius. The poets indulged this notion through self-fashioning.

Thomas Phillips, Lord Byron in Albanian dress, 1813.

The best known image of a Romantic poet is probably Byron in Albanian dress, fresh faced with lipstick lips, wrapped in a bright techni-coloured turban and thin wave of a moustache. Thomas Phillips was the painter, Byron the Napoleonic art director. Byron argued with his portrait painters wanting to look more Romantic. Do we recall Byron’s pox, his appetite for sex with children? Their image fashioning parallels movie stars and just encourages narcissism. It has impact. Byron’s estranged wife, Lady Noel concealed it from their daughter behind green drapes.

Walt Whitman, by Mathew Brady, c1866
Walt Whitman, by Mathew Brady, c1866

Walt Whitman became increasingly obsessed with his image and spent many hours sitting for photographers, trying different poses and editing them.

John-Cooper-Clarke, David Levene for the Guardian, May 2012
John Cooper Clarke, David Levene for the Guardian, May 2012 

A more recent poet, the punkish John Cooper Clarke was recently have his photograph taken: “Make me look handsome, David. I know I’ve fucked you around and you hate my guts, but please. Please. And not just good for me age. Good.” He laughs loud and the sun bounces off all the gold. How many gold teeth does he have? “About half a dozen. Honest, I’m worth more dead than alive . . . I love Charles Baudelaire. Him and Shakespeare are the only people I think are better than me. I swear to Christ, I think I’m better than every fucker.” John Cooper Clarke, interview with Simon Hattenstone, the Guardian May 2012.


John self portrait1
Self portrait, sweaty after bushwalk, showing off what hair I have left 

Swat Valley after Xmas day
Swat Valley, Boxing day, 1979


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