WE EXIST, the online exhibition

Public engagement with self-portrait helps mirror back a mutual sense of humanity which supports identification rather than disassociation and alienation. 

WE EXIST is a collaboration between Spanish artist Cristina Nuñez, a group of students of the Oslo Fotokunstskole and groups of inmates (men and women) of three Norwegian prisons: Bredtveit, Ila and Ullersmo.

In WE EXIST Cristina Nuñez trained a group of photography students to use her method The Self-Portrait Experience® first on themselves and then on prison inmates, through a series of self-portrait workshops aimed to stimulate their creative process and self-awareness.

The project gives voice to the prison interns and involve the public in a creative dialogue through several outputs, in order to help to deconstruct and dispel stigma surrounding the labels and stereotypes often associated with offenders. Sure enough, increasing public engagement with the prison inmates self-portraits helps mirror back a mutual sense of humanity which supports identification rather than disassociation and alienation.

The resulting images are shown on this online exhibition, builded as an interactive visual experience for the viewer. The exhibition presents not only the results of the workshop, with individual and relational self-portraits, but also a selection of artworks by OFKS students trained to The Self-Portrait Experience® and a section of invited artists committed to the same method and autobiographical research.

During 2017, the prisoners self-portraits will be shown in a large-scale exhibition at the Rådhusplassen in Oslo, while the students works will be on show at the OFKS.

Project funded by the EEA Grants through the Norwegian Embassy in Spain.


A project by Cristina Nuñez

Curator: Carolina Lio

Web design: Diana Thorimbert

Wonderland, the art of becoming human

This is the 5 minute version of "Wonderland: the art of becoming human" by Amanda Ravetz, a film about art, utopia and recovery from addiction, but also about my method The Self-Portrait Experience®, shot during my complete self-portrait workshop held at the Manchester Metropolitan University with a group of "recoverists" or people in recovery from drug or alcohol addiction, in collaboration with Portraits of Recovery, In2Recovery, Greater Manchester Recovery Federation, UK Recovery Federation. The project was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, as part of the Connected Communities Festival 2016 in UK.

The workshop was held in two steps, one in March and the second in April, so that participants could do some homework between the two meetings, and we kept in touch through our private Facebook group. Ten "recoverists" participated and in the end six of them produced a small but beautiful autobiographic book. During the workshop we produced collaborative work in the studio: individual self-portraits on the expression of emotions, relational self-portraits and group self-portraits. We worked in group on the choice and in-depth perception of the works produced, the dialogue between images and the project build-up, and each participant worked individually with me on the construction of their final book project.

Being a research project, this experience was extremely interesting, because I was stimulated to question my methodology and to really think about it, in order to improve it. The issue of authorship in collaborative work, the vulnerability of the workshop leader and the very question of one-person leadership versus group leadership or mutual collaboration. 

For example, when it comes to participants' final projects, it's been always difficult for me to work collaboratively, trusting their ideas and helping them to attain a good aesthetic shape. There was never enough time, and I ended up by proposing my own idea. I knew this was my inner dictator-artist, who thinks she knows how a project should be. I wanted this to change, I wanted to find a way to facilitate their creative process in the making of their project. This time, I surprised myself working together with them, listening to their ideas and really managing to build beautiful and powerful projects, with an aesthetic visual impact.

I will soon be publishing some of the images and the complete version of the film.

"WE EXIST", self-portraits in Norwegian prisons

This is a project of artistic collaboration between Spanish artist Cristina Nuñez, a group of students the Oslo Fotokunstskole and inmates (men and women) of three Norwegian prisons: Bredtveit, Ila and Ullersmo. The project is funded by the EEA Grants through the Norwegian Embassy in Spain and it is the continuation of a previous project called “Her/Story, Women Behind the Camera” produced in 2013-14.
For the project “We Exist, self-portraits in prison”, Cristina Nuñez is training a group of photography students to use her method The Self-Portrait Experience®, first on themselves and then on prison inmates. The resulting images, both the students’ self-portrait projects are shown on the online exhibition. Visitors can also follow the blog "We Exist".

The self-portrait above belongs to T.L. who was finally going out of prison two days after the picture was taken, so his expression meant to be "Fuck off, prison, I'm leaving". I love this picture, although I was a bit worried that by publishing it, and writing that this is a prison inmate, it could feed the stereotype. At the same time, this is the emotions self-portrait, they are free to express whatever they need to say. Plus my aim is not to prove that prison inmates are "good" or just to show their vulnerability, but to give them a voice, even if this voice says "Fuck off" or "I hate society". I feel the same sometimes, so why shouldn't he have the right to say it without us thinking "yeah, he's a bad guy". It would be more interesting for us to mirror ourselves and listen to that same feeling we might repress... Moreover, over 90% of prison inmates come from a poor upbringing, with far less resources, less opportunities, and bombarded as we all are with role models of huge success and wealth. 



The project #CLOSEtoME:
Artist Cristina Nuñez presented her work and her method to 10 high school classes in Milan and its province, selected by the Museum of Contemporary Photography of Cinisello Balsamo (Milan, Italy), and gave them two self-portrait exercises: one on the expression of emotions such as rage, despair, terror or euphoria, and a relationship self-portrait with someone important for them.

Teenagers worked on the assignment for over two months producing the images, while the Educational Service of the museum and later on, Cristina Nuñez, followed them to check their work and eventually give them the possibility to repeat the exercises. Four adolescents of each class, namely around 40 kids, participated to a collaborative video work by Cristina Nuñez, in which teens remained, alone or in couples, in front of the videocamera for two minutes, in deep contact with their emotions and vulnerability.

This video work, named “DUE MINUTI” (two minutes) and five videos showing the teenagers’ photographs have been shown in the exhibition #CLOSETOME, from May 30 to June 10, at Villa Ghirlanda – Museum of Contemporary Photography in Cinisello Balsamo.

This is the backstage video of the project #CLOSETOME.
The video has been produced by Michela Pandolfi, Marple&Marple Studio,

An interview to Cristina Nuñez by the staff of the Museum of Contemporary Photography

UNCOOL: Nuñez new video work about addiction recovery

Participants remained alone in the studio in front of the video camera for about 2-3 minutes without speaking, focusing on their emotions, trying to let them out, to express the vulnerability, the uneasiness, the pain or whatever is not "cool"...

I AM, employs contemporary art & artists as mechanisms for social activism within recovery from addiction by providing a platform to articulate recovery experiences. It brings together, artists, arts-for-health, and drug & alcohol treatment agencies, cultural and public organisations to create a cohesive grouping to bring a disenfranchised people to high quality artistic experiences.

The 2 year European project looks at how the arts and culture can support people in recovery from substance misuse to develop new life-opportunities through self-portraiture by working with international artists.

Led by Portraits of Recovery; an Oldham/Manchester based, visual arts charity the project has been developed in partnership with Arts for Health, at Manchester Metropolitan University, Gruppo Incontro Cooperativa Sociale and F.E.D.E.R.S.E.R.D - Italy, and the Turkish Green Crescent Society, Kütahya branch.

Project manager, Mark Prest, from Portraits of Recovery, said: “Recovery is a process of transformation, a passage that reconfigures a person’s identity. The resulting artworks will offer a powerful exhibition of participants' voices as presented through their stories as well as their portraits beyond clichéd representations.”




At last, The Self-Portrait Experience is available on our brand new Moodle platform!!!

It's many years I wanted to do this, so I'm really happy. I am truly convinced that the online platform is extremely suitable for the intimate and personal self-portrait process and project. I've already held many individual online workshops, and participants have gone through a powerful journey. The Self-Portrait Experience is above all, an individual process, but being able to share online this process with others can help you to practice Trust, and stimulate new and significant relationships, because when you have online contact with someone who speaks the same "language", that of the Heart, of the Inner Search, is a very moving and amazing experience. You meet people's soul before meeting their body. The physical distance enhances the thrill of the deep contact... I tell you, I experience this thrill almost every week, when people write me very touching emails after they've seen my work. For this, I truly thank these amazing though complicated times and the wonderful possibilities of the Internet.

The Self-Portrait Experience's complete workshop is a journey through all aspects of our lives using photography: self-portraits, portraits, landscapes, abstract photography and the family album, in a series of exercises, divided in three parts:

- ME (emotions, skills, character representation, body, places, roots)

- ME AND THE OTHER (relationship self-portraits)

- ME AND THE WORLD (self-portraits with our groups, the unknown community, the media and art)

After participants have experienced the complete method on themselves, and started an autobiographical self-portrait project, they can start the second part of the training for self-portrait facilitators (soon on the online platform), to be able to use this method on other people.

During the workshop participants work on the exercises, following the instructions but also their instinct and personal inspiration. The exercises are made to stimulate this inspiration... They work individually on the perception and choice of the images, and share their selection so we can start to work as a group on the in-depth perception and choice of the final works with the help of the artistic criteria of this method, which help us to establish a profound dialogue with images (our own and others' images). Then we use other criteria for the dialogue between images, the build up of sequences and of the personal self-portrait project, which is the beginning of one's own autobiography in images. Little by little, projects become more and more personal, a sort of "mother project" which will "give birth" to other non-self-portrait projects in the future, even with other artistic media. 

The online workshop has an online Forum in which participants post their work for others to see and comment (you connect when you can!), a chat window when you find others online at the same time, the possibility to personalize your moodle page and to add external links and other resources. It also provides material such as methodology, technical issues, a theoretical background with references, a list of contemporary artists for inspiration, a series of images from other workshop participants, and much more. Of course I'm often available online and I will give my feedback often, propose exercise and work, stimulate and inspire the group, organize small group work and if possible and requested, a real-time conference.

There are now two new online workshops, one in English (part one of the method, September 1-30, 2014) and one in Spanish (just one week, the emotions exercise).

If you want to join in, please click here. You should first choose your language above right, then register, then have a look at the available workshops and enroll (payment with Paypal). 

If you haven't seen them, please have a look at my two videos, Someone to Love and Higher Self, both at the section "The method" on this website.

If you want to hear some of my workshop participants' experience and feedback, you can look at this video below.


Dal 2005 tengo workshop di autoritratto in giro per il mondo. In questo video, alcuni dei partecipanti ai miei workshop raccontano la loro esperienza ed esprimono i loro pensieri su questo metodo.

Since 2005 I hold self-portrait workshops around the world. In this video, some of my workshop participants talk about their experience with this method and express their thoughts on the method.

This one below is the Italian version. Below the Italian is the English version. Soon the Spanish version will be uploaded here.


From February to June this year, for 22 days, I held a complete self-portrait workshop for 50 prison interns at Lledoners Penitentiary Centre in Manresa (Barcelona), with the collaboration of educator Norberto Sinatra, with the help of my daughter Diana, young artist Olmo Stuppia and self-portrait facilitator Ilenia Rossi, and thanks to a grant from Obra Social La Caixa. The interns are in two “participation and responsibility modules” –an innovative system in which interns are committed to avoid violence and drugs, and actively participate to the organization of the modules.


First of all we held a presentation, in which I told them the story of my life and my emotions through the images, and showed them how the method works and how other interns have empowered themselves with it. The presentation is essential to create a trustful and authentic relationship. Then, 50 interns decided to participate, of which only 7 of them interrupted the process half-way.

The workshop consisted in several self-portrait exercises, such as the emotions exercise, the relationship exercise -which were produced in my professional photo-studio set up inside the prison-, plus the work on the family album, the intuitive choice of landscape images we took for them, and the building up of their personal self-portrait projects, which reflected their inner life in that particular moment. The interns worked both individually, in couples and in group on the making of images and on the perception and choice of the images with the help of specific artistic criteria.


Our aim was, in the first place, to involve the interns in the creative process so that they would learn to transform their pain and difficult emotions into works of art and to perceive the incredible plasticity and multiplicity of their identity. The production of beautiful images which spring from the interns’ inner lives helps them (and us) to see the beauty in their sheer humanity and to accept it completely. This encourages interns to see beyond the labels, to be more aware of their potential, to improve their self-image and their self-esteem. By sharing  this inner process with their peers, they learn to communicate with others in a more authentic way, to see others from a more human point of view, thus  improving their relationships and their public image. The whole process stimulates the thought processes which are necessary for their evolution and their re-integration in society.


The publication of these images, to which the vast majority of the interns agreed, introduces another important goal of this project: to open the prison doors and allow interns to become visible, expressing themselves to the world and inspiring others to do the same, to create a significant dialogue between the inside and the outside, to stimulate people outside to see themselves in the interns’ self-portraits. In fact, in the journey to the depths of our identity through the expression of difficult emotions and pain, we become speakers for others, we are all very similar...


I.M., (below), 29, had been in and out of prison since he was 14. At first didn’t want to participate, but he wanted to talk to me. He told me that he didn’t believe that I used heroin so heavily, and that I managed to quit. I understood that he didn’t believe that he himself could change his life. After talking for a while he decided he would try, and in the end he participated to the whole process. I decided that I would make my best to convince him that he could make it too. And I did. At the end of the workshop he said: I have seen myself in different way. It’s amazing to discover that we can express completely different things at the same time. Now, he's a seeker...


J.S. (below) is another intern who has spent half of his life in prison, and the last few months in isolation for punishment. He participated to the whole process with enthusiasm: when we divided the group in two for the group work on the images, he assisted to both groups, spending his whole day with us. Educators were amazed, since he usually couldn't stay concentrated for more than half hour. This proves my idea that those who are more labelled, usually produce more powerful images and go through a more cathartic process. 


Then J.S. did the relationship self-portrait with M.M. He didn't have much relationships with other interns, since he was almost permanently in continuous introspection, probably because of the forced isolation. During the exercise, I asked them to pretend a violent fight, without hurting each other, but trying to express the violence with their face. The goal of this exercise is to encourage them to work on the issue of violence. J.S. and M.M. were the only ones in Module 6 who managed to let their violence out and make it seem totally real. This beautiful sequence of works (below) allowed the whole group to see the violence and at the same time see the emotions -the group saw the rage, the fear, the frustration, the need to be seen and loved, the brotherhood and solidarity, the common ideals, the extreme situation. The group could identify with them and honestly talk about violence.

He gave us this feedback: I had never taken pictures of myself and I would have never looked at them. The only pictures in which I appear are those of the police. I was very surprised to see myself. I didn't recognize myself at the beginning. In the relationship exercise I could express all my rage. I could see my darkest side and accept it. I started to feel good about myself, and M.M. and I have become good friends.


Below is M.M. emotions self-portrait and his whole project. 


He decided to add these images of trees to his project. He said his roots have become really important. I said that he is like a tree, since he must stay still for some time, and he must be resistant, patient and keep on growing... The group of trees, both neat and blurry, reminded him of his family. He said he liked to share his images with his fellow interns, and to see their images as well. "This workshop allowed me to get out of this hole for a moment, and feel free..." 

Here are more of the interns' beautiful and meaningful projects. And following is some of their feedback. 


D.K. (above) was suspicious before the workshop began. He asked me "What will you do with these images?" I told him that he could choose to publish them or not. During the workshop, his naked torso self-portrait stimulated a discussion about being black and racism. All Africans were sitting on one side and the whites on the other. The discussion got tough, but they were facing inner conflicts which concerned them all, such as labels, being different, being considered inferior than others, having less possibilities and rights in society... After this discussion, blacks and whites started to relate more between them. Some good friendships began. And D.K. decided he would let me publish his images. "Also on TV", he said. "I loved the whole experience. Now, I'd like to tell my story, it gives me hope. I've seen myself in a different way, and also my fellow interns. I feel I've become stronger and I've seen my good side... I could let out my rage and pain, and I can accept them. I was surprised to see the wisdom on my face!"


General feedback: 

- I have discovered many important things on the process. Not all of them positive, but I it's been important to open my eyes... I've realized that my fellow interns have similar inner experiences and similar pain, so now I don't consider them as hostile as before. 

- I think I've learned to forgive myself and forgive others. 

- If I could have a camera, I think I would take self-portraits every day. 

- I was struck to see other interns' images expressing emotions. I didn't recognize them, and I didn't recognize myself, but in the end, it's like learning how to see more of yourself and others. And this feels good. 

- I've learned to accept that sometimes I feel lost. 

- I was very touched to see the images of R.M. crying. It's been really important to see my fellow interns' pain, what they think and feel. 

- Now I feel others see me in a different way. I don't feel so rejected and lonely anymore.

- It was not easy to share my pictures with others, since I felt they could see me deep inside, expressing my intimate emotions, but I'm glad I did it. I feel this has helped us to improve the relationship between us.


- I've been really surprised to discover that we express completely different things at the same time, in both sides of the face. I think this allows us to better understand the human being. 

- I didn't know there was another "me"... and it's hard to believe it. But he's my friend now... 

- I think the moment has come to let go this burden and understand why all this rage, this hatred... 

- I used to look at pictures quickly. Now I study them. I look at both sides of the face separately and I always discover more than I first saw. I also look at people's face in a similar way now. 

- I've seen goodness in my fellow interns' images. 

- This experience was too short. I wish we could continue. 



is a Cristina Nuñez's project funded by EEA Grant "Cultural diversity and cultural exchange" and by Generalitat de Catalunya. The project, facilitade by curator Carolina Lio, has been presented at H2O Gallery of Barcelona in July 2014 and is going to be exhibited at the Oslo Fotokunstskole (August 2014) and at El Patio de San Martin de Los Heros in Madrid (September 2014). Project's aim is to produce an active interaction between Spanish and Norwegian society taking into account three different social groups: two established artists (Spanish artist Cristina Nuñez and Norwegian artist Lotte Konow Lund), a group of female students from the Oslo Fotokunstskole and a group of women from the prisons of Bredtveit (Oslo) and Brians 1 (Barcelona). They had been asked for a comparison about feminine body and feminine identity in their own living context.

Cristina Nuñez, video still from La Vie en Rose

Cristina Nuñez, video still from La Vie en Rose

Most part of the project's interest is due to the comparison between two extremely different countries within Europe and to the analysis of political, social and economic duality between Spain and Norway. Mediterranean country, suffering a strong economic crisis with its consequent social repercussions, Spain has recently experienced very difficult years, becoming one of the poorest countries of the EU. The crisis of Spanish property market has made eadlines around the world for its almost sci-fi devaluation, and as unemployment rises and welfarism decreases, social discontent is growing, sharpening the desire for independence of territories such as Catalunya. On the contrary, Norway has never been so supportive to itself, solid, proud and prosperous. After the yearned independence from Sweden, the pledge to be paid was high. A great poverty had bent the country, that has been almost magically taken up thanks to the discovery of petroleum in the '60s, quickly becoming not only the richest country in Europe, but also the one with the best sharing of wealth. So the Norwegians, proud of being such, are well-off and self-confident people in a country under renewal.



Cristina Nuñez, in the wake of her autobiographical and self-therapeutic researches, decided to analyze the deep and antithetical differences between the two countries from the point of view of the "weaker sex". In Mediterranean countries, the woman is still "the second sex" as expressed by a great intellectual, Simone de Beauvoir. The culture of southern Europe has basically remained anchored to the idea of the woman-mother, a pivotal figure of the society only if taken in the family context. The woman, in short, fulfills her own life when she becomes bride - better if devoted - and then mother. Career and projectuality are seen as youthful values for a single woman, almost passing fancies destined to extinction and to meet something more stable and serious, which is the classic figure of the woman very close to her man and her children. They are countries where the word "spinster", notwithstanding it is used less and less in favor of more politically correct terms, still makes sense. And even more sense does it have the word "sacrifice," which for a woman is supposed to be spontaneous and natural. The female independence is of course conceived and ever craved, but vulgarly identified with sexual boldness and awareness, jumping from the frying pan into the fire. The woman, with the illusion of winning a position in the world, seeks her own value in the beauty and in the power of seduction, voluntarily becoming a sex object in order to grasp the privileges that are offered in exchange by a power that is still sexist.


In the video-trilogy prepared for Her/Story, entitled "La vie en rose", Cristina Nuñez talks to a hypothetical future lover to whom asks to fall in love with her hrough her rtwork. In the videos she talks about her loneliness, her pain, the feeling of being unsuitable and unacceptable, ugly, about the fear of rejection, the desire to die. She alternates her extreme character traits without hiding or soften them. She wants his imaginary observer to see her exactly as she is, arriving prepared and aware of her more black and more difficult sides that he will have to accept, to love, to share. For this reason Cristina takes herself both in simple everyday gestures (having breakfast) and in moments of deep despair in which she is filming herself naked and in tears, disclosing her own darkest and deepest thoughts.


In the exhibition at the Oslo Fotokunstskole, "La vie en rose" is put in parallel with the result that has occurred in the workshops held by Cristina Nuñez in the prisons of Bredtveit (Oslo) and Brians 1 (Barcelona) and with the photos prepared by a group of students of the school. On one side, women in prison with a unruly and painful life, many of them coming not from Norway but from South America, so Hispanic; on the other side, young students by the promising future that represent a privileged class within the Norwegian society. To both of the two groups the same exercise has been proposed, consisting of standing in front of a camera and take a self-portrait. Thus said, it would seem simple. In practice, Nuñez's method is to let every single person communicate with the camera (therefore with an eye that peers into them) while they work on their deeper and more uncomfortable, emotions, such as fear, terror and pain. When they feel ready, each single person shoots three self-portraits, the results of which are usually pretty striking, the subject is almost unrecognizable and the real people, once the exercise is finished, often in tears.


This result is obtained both with young students, free and emanticipated within a society that offers them a great future, or with women with shattered lives, abandoned by all, even by themselves.


My personal deduction is that the social differences related to nationality, culture and social class, are like a skin that is easy to wear when it comes to intellectual matters, or to politics or economics. But at a deeper level there is a humanity that, if it finds an escape valve, erupts like a volcano a lava of repressed emotions that doesn't concern our "education" and our awareness of social norms and expectations. This part, which Cristina calls "higher self", indeed flies higher, flies over practical factors and talks about a naked humanity. We could even say, about a mother of humanity, wise enough to not have to cling to the external conventions to be herself.

Carolina Lio


More news will be given about this project in the next few months!

Supported by: 

Logo Norwegian Embassy650.jpg