Project Description

Portraits

The portraits: they are a happy meeting place for the artistic self and the personal self, involvement with form and involvement with other people. In the portraits the reconciliation I seek is between the humanist and the formalist.

I realize that one of my goals in the portraits is to operate within the tradition of the studio portrait with its elements of theatrical self-presentation and staging. Often, not the person, but the thing furnished the occasion for one of the portraits: the trompe l’oeil wall, the snood, the unicycle. Yet the result is a portrait; it is a figure which is at the center of the image.

There are two kinds of pictures here. One is similar to what Walter Benjamin said of the fishwife of Newcastle in Hill and Adamson’s calotypes: the subject has a certain indelible primacy, a particular identity; not only an artistic form. Of course, any photograph is a fiction. But there is always that tension between the artistic form, the grace – and the independent impact of the subject’s existence. Other pieces here incline more towards a form which minimizes specific identity.

Portraiture carries a moral responsibility. A clever photographer could probably make a beautiful and moving portrait of a monster.

I.C.’s response to her portrait: “That’s me – with all my pain and suffering!” Different people undergo different types and varying degrees of suffering. There are both physical suffering and emotional pain. They both induce moments of serious reflection. Seriousness must come from knowing about pain (as does high unseriousness). These are moments when people are “feeling serious,” moments of gravity. Gravity and grace: who said that? There is a kind of physical “grace” in seriousness, a meditative poise as on the edge of an abyss. Like the films of Robert Bresson, in which the people are saints and martyrs.

Repose. Repose. Repose. This repose differs from death in that it is filled with consciousness. The portraits are instances of individuation. Not merging. People in all their resistant otherness.

I suppose the portraits represent my aspirations for other people: aspirations towards emotional heroism, mystery, suffering, self-knowledge – and formal perfection. Perhaps this is presumptuous of me. S.B. comments on how stern he looks in his portrait. So do they all.

The union of pose and pensiveness. Pose. Re-pose.