Tom Butler: Self Portraits


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Tom Butler

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English photographer Tom Butler (b. 1979) contorts his body, holding elegant poses that show only the top of his head. “The work reads like a contemporary dance piece; Butler’s body casting shapes that confuse and intrigue — his bald head the small, ever-present reminder that the contortionist is indeed a person and not some kind of arachnid sculpture.” (Rosie Flanagan, Ignant)
The self-portraits are almost unidentifiable. Black shapes pop out of the images, with occasional accents of a white circle or lines – which, upon closer inspection, we can identify as the top of a perfectly bald head or the crook of an elbow. They’re charming reminders that this strange figure is, in fact, a human being. “I attempt to reduce myself as much as possible to a singular form,” Butler says. “Instead of presenting myself in a recognisable way, I appear concealed, ambiguous, or even monstrous.”
The series as a whole resembles a modern dance performance, with a body moulded into whatever shape the choreographer desires. It forces the viewer to look at the series sideways or upside down, in order to understand the silly positions Butler got himself in. The high-contrast black and white portraits convey a feeling of being trapped in a body, as well as a sense of playfulness. Butler calls the process “conspicuous invisibility”, which is about the simultaneous desire to both hide and perform.


Tom Butler is represented by gallery Charlie Smith London, which holds the majority of the Self Portrait / Figure series. Butler is also represented by Gallery Fifty One in Antwerp and Print Sales at the Photographers Gallery, London.