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Dawn Hunter_Four Cajals.jpg

Personas and Selfies

Dawn Hunter: Cajal's photographic fascination and the distinction between self-portraits and selfies.

"Self-portraits and selfies are not the same things. Historical self-portraits have frequently been identified as selfies, and I would argue that majority of these images are not selfies. Selfies are about behavior, and more specifically, repeated action. We can indulge in selfies during the digital age without any tremendous financial consequence or personal inconvenience - thus, it becomes easy for us to repeat our behavior frequently. The most basic definition of a selfie is: "a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and shared via social media."


Cajal had a fascination with photography and his image at a young age. He invented some early color photography techniques through his intellectual prowess. Instead of buying prepared photographic plates, he often created emulsion for his photos' plates with a recipe he made. Cajal's emulsified plates were sought after by others wishing to print their photos. His plates were so popular among his flock that many plates were created and sold to locals with his wife's help."

"Time and concentration allow the intellect to perceive a ray of light in the darkness of the most complex problem."

― Santiago Ramón y Cajal

"Cajal's ingenuity enabled him to create countless "selfies" throughout his lifetime, and many of them were sent to newspapers for articles or traded with colleagues at conferences. He so prevalently made images of himself that I would argue that the regularity of their creation and the exchange of them with colleagues, places his self-portraits in the realm of selfies and how we understand selfies as a modern concept.

Cajal's selfies were often sent with press releases to accompany news articles about his scientific discoveries. I believe the concept of how he represented himself in his photos influenced how others perceived him and how photographers created content about him. Besides exploring his "persona" through photographic images of himself, Cajal took photos of people who were integrated into his life, like his wife, Silveria. He considered photography to be an outlet of emotional and creative expression thus, others as the subject in his photos could be interpreted and regarded as surrogates for his emotional state."

Dawn Hunter_two Cajals one before   and one after Cuba.jpg

"While serving as a Fulbright España Senior Research Scholar at the Instituto Cajal in Madrid, I made it a point to explore the Cajal "persona" created by Cajal and others. I aimed to perceive content that I felt was symbolically important and metaphorically representative of who he was as a person and/or items that helped construct his public identity. This page is a sampling of those explorations."

~ Dawn Hunter, University of South Carolina

Select the respective thumbnails below to magnify the images, thereby initiating a dynamic image carousel of the artwork. Additionally, you may leverage the integrated email and social media distribution functionalities to share the artwork.

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