Issue 32 — Autumn 2002
What are you looking at when you look at a portrait? Stefanie Grebe traces the modern definition of portraiture back to the Renaissance. In this definition a photograph is decisively a portrait if an idea of the sitter's character is conveyed by the picture.
Portraits attract interest for a number of different reasons including: their value for commercial exploitation, our ongoing desire to be anonymous or individuated in society and their power to remind us of the dead. Douglas Davies, an anthropologist of religion, describes the increasing popularity of photographs on graves and the function these serve in maintaining the memory of the dead. The Christian tradition tells us that the individual is made in God's image while the Enlightenment sought to discover a 'state of nature'; Paul and Paula, in their formalised game of strip poker, More Beautiful Than God, present a form of portraiture that reveals both the natural and divine in their subjects. The resulting portraits give a literal and personal revelation of their participants.
Thomas Ruff by contrast states boldly that the subjects of his portraits are looking back into the eyes of Big Brother introducing the idea that individual identity is now governed by social and political forces. Stephen Bull also discovers Big Brother has been an motivation for recent portraiture, only this time within the pages of OK! and HELLO! magazines. These portraits suggest that an attractive celebrity lifestyle is within the reach of readers while in reality maintaining a stylised view of success and keeping advertisers happy.
If you are successful and wealthy, you will probably want to control the way you are portrayed and the profits to be made from your image. British law, unlike many other jurisdictions, does not at the moment offer protection for image rights, however Ronan Deazley describes how the law is currently developing so 'breach of confidence' could in the future form a basis for the protection image rights. Along with an expansion of the possibility of trade marking images he questions what effect this might have in censoring public culture and public space.
Peter Finnemore has been exploring his family home and garden in Wales. Discovering the expressive possibilities of his immediate environment he has generated an engaging and magical personal portraiture.
Beyond the mainstream of photographic exhibitions and publications Robin Dale has been collaborating with singer-songwriter Graeme Miles. In particular he has worked on a long term project photographing scarecrows in the North East of England. These are then presented as a part of performances using slide projections with the songs.
A number of major figures in British photography have had exhibitions recently, in particular Peter Fraser and Thomas Cooper. Meanwhile two new books on Jeff Wall are reviewed by Mark Durden. He suggests that Wall would benefit from looking carefully at the documentary tradition. Two books about conflict in Kosovo and East Timor, reviewed here by Jane Fletcher, offer recent examples of alternative documentary approaches to war situations.
After the dearth of portfolio days over the summer we are pleased to be able to announce dates for seven days in seven cities.
— The Editors