the experimental self: edvard munch’s photography

november 2017 - may 2018, scandinavia house, new york


edvard munch (1863-1944) seems to have been one of the first artists in history to take “selfies.” like his paintings, prints, and writings, the most consistent theme in munch’s photography was self-portraiture. in his self-images, produced in a variety of media, munch assumed a range of intimate, as well as performative, personae. as an amateur photographer, munch exploited the expressive potential of photographic “mistakes,” such as “faulty” focus, distorted and funneling perspectives, eccentric camera angles, and in particular, movement, during long exposure times that resulted in the ghosting of his own body. such challenges to the camera’s capacity - to record an aspect of reality -were replicated by munch in other media. he did not exhibit his photographs.


munch’s photographs have been dated to two periods, 1902 to 1910 and 1927 to the mid-1930s. munch took up photography in 1902, the year in which he and his lover tulla larsen ended a multi-year relationship, following a confrontation with a pistol shot that mutilated one of the artist’s fingers. this event, and an accelerated career, triggered a period of increasing emotional turmoil that culminated in a rest cure in the private copenhagen clinic of dr. daniel jacobson from 1908 to 1909. the second period of activity, from 1927 into the mid-1930s, was bracketed by triumphant retrospective exhibitions in berlin and oslo and by a hemorrhage in munch’s right eye, which temporarily impaired his vision. this was also the time that munch tried his hand at home movies.

exploring the dynamics of layered imagery, undefined form, and shadows that replace living bodies, munch pursued photography as an experimental medium and himself as an experimental subject.


“I have an old camera with which I have taken countless pictures of myself, often with amazing results,” edvard munch stated in 1930. “some day when I am old, and I have nothing better to do than write my autobiography, all my self-portraits will see the light of day again.”







































1. edvard munch, self-portrait ‘à la marat,’ beside a bathtub at dr. jacobson’s clinic, 1908-09

2. edvard munch, self-portrait in profile indoors in asgårdstrand, ca. 1904

3. edvard munch, self-portrait with valise, 1906 

4. edvard munch, self-portrait with housekeeper in warnemünde, 1907


courtesy of munch museum

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