Birmingham City Council

Self Portrait Birmingham

New self-portrait project to take snapshot of Birmingham’s people

Self Portrait Birmingham

• Inspired by Handsworth Self Portrait project of 1979

• Studios to be set up across the city to capture images of local people

• Photographs to feature in Library of Birmingham

One of the original architects behind the 1979 Handsworth Self Portrait (HSP) project, Brian Homer, is calling for people across Birmingham to submit their own self-portraits to help create a snapshot of the city’s people in 2011. Called Self Portrait Birmingham, the project which was commissioned by Birmingham City Council as part of the Library of Birmingham project, will launch at this year’s Artsfest on Saturday 10 September. Over the weeks that follow photographic studios will pop up at different locations around the city and, using the latest digital technology, local people will be asked to take self-portraits of themselves in front of a camera. It is intended that the resulting photographs will form a major installation in the Library of Birmingham, which opens in 2013.

Participants will be able to take charge of the photographic process by using a shutter release cable to select the exact moment to take the picture, ensuring they can control how they present themselves. A plain background will isolate each person from the world around them, ensuring the focus of the image is on the individuals within it, rather than their surroundings. They will receive a hard copy of their photograph to take away and their image may be chosen to form part of the planned exhibition. In addition, the images will in the future be made available online and preserved in the Library’s archives so that future generations can see them.

This project is inspired by the ground-breaking Handsworth Self Portrait project, the brainchild of Birmingham residents Derek Bishton, Brian Homer and John Reardon. Together they recorded images of around 500 people and a selection of images was exhibited both locally and nationally, while also appearing in photographic magazines and the local press. The striking images are now held in the permanent collection at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery and Birmingham Central Library. Those at Central Library will move into the new Library of Birmingham in 2013.

Brian Homer is spearheading this latest photographic initiative with Timm Sonnenschein a Birmingham-based freelance photographer. Also central to the project are Graham Peet, Community Artist and Photographer, James Yarker, Artistic Director for Stan’s Cafe Theatre Company, and Peter James, Head of Photographs at Birmingham City Council's Library and Archive Services.

Brian is passionate about recording local life through self-portraits. Talking about the project, he says, “Self Portrait Birmingham is an opportunity for people to contribute to a comprehensive and creative portrait of Birmingham and its communities. By giving people the freedom to take their own picture, with the cable release together with the plain backdrop, means that the images really show each person’s personality. There is a clear difference to portraits where the photographer remains in control throughout.”

Councillor Mike Whitby, Leader of Birmingham City Council, adds: “Birmingham has a strong tradition of self-portrait photography and the seminal Handsworth Self-Portrait (HSP) project provided a real insight into the lives of people living in Birmingham in the late 70s. Self Portrait Birmingham will now allow us to capture a picture of the people of this city at a pivotal moment in its history. Birmingham is going through a huge transformation right now and we want to capture the people living within it as this happens.

“To ensure the Self Project Birmingham can equal the success of its predecessor, we need local people to volunteer to be part of it and help create a record of Birmingham in 2011. That is why we’re calling on people to get involved now to not only create a picture of our city, but also to participate in one of the first art projects to exhibit at the Library of Birmingham when it opens its doors in 2013.”

After launching Artsfest on 10 September, eight photographic sessions will take place in a range of locations across the city centre and in community libraries around Birmingham.

Dates for Self Portrait Birmingham are:

• Launch of Self Portrait Birmingham at Artsfest

• Saturday 10 September, Birmingham Central Library, 10am – 4pm

• Thursday 15 September, Jewellery Quarter, 10am – 4pm

• Saturday 24 September, Midlands Arts Centre, 10am – 4pm

• Friday 23 September, Birmingham Cathedral, 10am - 4pm

• Thursday 29 September, Castle Vale Library, 10am - 4pm

• Saturday 01 October, Ward End Library, 10am - 4pm

In addition to these dates the project team plan to visit Library Services at Home clients and use a portable set up so that housebound individuals can participate.

With the first photographic portrait studio established in Birmingham as early as 1841, there has been a rich tradition of portrait work in the city ever since. Self Portrait Birmingham is part of a rich and diverse practice capturing the likeness of the people of Birmingham and this visual history now forms a key part of the nationally and internationally significant photography archives held by the Library.

To find out more about taking part in the Self Portrait Birmingham project go to, call Timm Sonnenschein on 0121 443 2515 or Brian Homer on 0121 551 5544.