Assignment 4: portraits

I want to approach this assignment first by considering what we mean by a “portrait”.

In the past, people referred to their portrait as their “likeness”. With the development of photography, the phrase “taking one’s likeness” was used, and in certain cultures was considered a theft of part of the person, as if the likeness had a separate existence, a doppelgänger, or as if the camera was penetrating the soul and stealing it. The criterion for successful portraiture was the extent to which it resembled the outward appearance of the subject, until abstraction, specifically Cubism, fractured the image and suggested multiple viewpoints, while Fauves used non-natural colour to express emotional truths.

Photography is now almost a plague, with “likenesses” of everyone and every action they do, and every meal they eat proliferating on social media. Image making is replacing words, and official photographed portraits seem frankly pointless. How can a single image replace the multiplicity of snaps that can sum up the wholeness of the person? When we see a posed studio photo we are all aware of the artifice, the sense of being manicured, and we treat it with a degree of skepticism, even without considering the digital manipulative tools that could have been used.

I want to explore photographic portraiture in this unit, but from the point of view of the image as sign, as a cipher that encodes a relationship between the viewed person, and the viewer/image maker, separate from the means of image making, the process variables involved in photography and printing.

I mainly focus on two images, both of my mother, taken in the middle of last century. These of course have personal significance, so the challenge is to give them more general meaning. These also allow me to continue the theme of earlier units, but continuing to address the subject of dementia and the loss of self.

These are the photos, edited a bit for contrast.

First a sketch, layers of deconstruction of an image of my grandmother. iPad Sketch Born in the 1880s, she lived over 90 years, and was a sum of various parts, a bit of image making, and a fair number of secrets and lies, and Victorian hypocrisy. She had a good brain, underused, which eventually gave out on her and betrayed her. Otherwise we’d never have seen beneath the surface. The photographed image is often seen as truthful: the camera doesn’t lie. But the camera has trained us to see with its single lens, just as much as it confirms to us what we think we see. This sketch simply explored the image as pattern, composition and sculptural form, an entity that takes up space. At the same time, the words are metaphors for the process of modelling, but consider the individual, the space and place they inhabit in the world, and their impact.


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Author: chrisocaprintingblog

Studying visual arts part-time with the Open College of the Arts

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