Over a period of seventeen years, John Coplans photographed parts of his body, often in extreme close-up shots, to create a collective self-portrait. This photograph dates to the first year of the project when Coplans was sixty-four. Like two massive columns, he captures his two feet as he draws them close and raises them to put his weight on his toes. It is a candid document of an older man's feet that reveals the wrinkles, veining, rough skin, vertical scab, small tuffs of hair, and the thick, somewhat discolored and jaggedly cut or picked toenails. Coplans presents his feet as they are, with no apologies for how unsightly they might strike the viewer. Yet, if we are drawn to them, why?
Taking the series as a whole, Coplans tracks his body as it ages. In an age that prizes the beauty of youth, he makes himself vulnerable as he divulges a less-than-ideal—but very human—body. If because of our culture we sometimes deny the physical realities of our bodies and aging, Coplans embraces them. In exposing himself, he exposes us all to the fragilities of our physical selves. Perhaps he asks us to remember the brevity of life and to treasure who we really are?physically and spiritually.
John Coplans, Self-Portrait: Feet Frontal, 1984, gelatin silver print, 22 3/4 x 17 3/4 inches. Collection of Madison Museum of Contemporary Art. Madison Art Center Purchase Fund. 1986.003 © Estate of John Coplans.
John Coplans, Self Portrait, 1989. Photograph © Estate of John Coplans.