About Face Exhibition Catalog

Page 1


Published in conjunction with the exhibition About Face at Pier 24 Photography May 15, 2012 – April 30, 2013


005 Director’s Foreword

Christopher McCall


Philip Gefter


Sandra S. Phillips


Ulrike Schneider


Richard Avedon

165 Index of PHOTOGRAPHS




hile a portrait may pique our curiosity, prompt our scrutiny, spark our attraction, or incite our revulsion, the measure of our distance from the subject, whether culturally or historically, holds us tethered in our connection to the human species even as it marks our individuality in relation to it. The collective bodies of work in About Face, with their many distinctly individual portraits, add up to something that approximates an objective record. Included here are artists from the United States, China, Europe, Japan, and South Africa. The organizing principle of the exhibition is, above all else, the typology, or the many individual bodies of work that classify distinct pockets of civilization. Although single works by notable photographers are presented here, more often we find entire categories of subjects treated by individual artists. And the distinct style and approach of each of these photographers is never far from view. Optical precision is the singular property of the photographic portrait that sets it apart within the history of art. A painting, no matter how “realistic,” is an interpretive depiction of its subject. A photograph of an individual, despite all we have come to know about the tricks of representation, raises an expectation of fidelity to the actual world. Our minds are now trained to resist the native impulse to believe what we are seeing in a photograph; still, our eyes try to read a photograph as evidence of fact. It is a treat to discover what the legendary actress Sarah Bernhardt (1844– 1923) looked like in a portrait made by Nadar (1820–1910) in the nineteenth century (p. 8); or to encounter the likenesses of poet Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892–1950), by Berenice Abbott (1898–1991); or artist Jasper Johns (b. 1930), by Richard Avedon (1923–2004); or the novelist Colette (1873–1954), by Irving Penn (1917–2009). Yet an invisible tension confronts the viewer when considering to what degree these portraits are accurate renderings of



their subjects. The style in which the sitter is presented is deeply relevant to the construction of a portrait, and in proclaiming a work’s particularity as the creation of a specific photographer, style may even overshadow the sitter’s individual identity. In other words, although a portrait might be defined as a representation of another human being, Avedon declared on more than one occasion: “All of my portraits are self-portraits.” 1 Avedon and Irving Penn strike a comparable note in parallel bodies of work that, respectively, compose a photographic pantheon of leading cultural figures in twentieth-century America. A comparison of the work of these two contemporaries and rivals bolsters the argument for reading an artist’s portraits as self-portraiture. From time to time, Avedon and Penn photographed the same subjects, for instance writer Truman Capote (1924–1984). Avedon’s Truman Capote, Writer, New York City, October 10, 1955 (1955, p. 11) typifies the signature style with which, in more than a nod to Minimalism, he distilled the portrait, rendering it as no more and no less than a frame for his subject. Capote appears against a white background, bare-chested with his head back and his eyes closed, as if submitting to the act of being photographed while refusing to be seen. He is captured with a level of detail so precise that it borders on the forensic. Avedon allows Capote to speak for himself, calling to mind the nuanced irony of an aphorism coined by Oscar Wilde: “It is only the shallow people who do not judge by appearances.” In other words, Avedon’s work, like Andy Warhol’s iconic paintings of twentieth-century celebrities, telegraphs on the surface an entire universe of information through the chain of cultural associations his famous subjects activate in the viewer’s mind. In contrast, the portrait of Capote made by Penn in 1948 (p. 12) reflects his characteristic use of the bold, graphic play of light and shadow. The subtle humor of Penn’s portraits resides in his use of the occasional prop, in

Nadar Untitled [Portrait of Sarah Bernhardt] ca. 1865 Gelatin silver print 10 x 8 in.

this case a corner made in his studio from two angled backdrops and a chair on which his subject has chosen to perch. Again Capote seems defenseless—here backed into a corner, wrapped in a winter coat, hands in his pockets—and yet he is protected behind the barrier of the chair’s arms and legs. While both photographs are portraits of the same writer, one is distinctly Avedon and the other distinctly Penn; both are as much self-portraits of their respective photographers as they are likenesses of Capote. The subject of self-portraiture is further explored in About Face through a selection of photographic self-portraits from the Collection of Carla Emil and Rich Silverstein. In her essay in this volume titled “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood: Photography and Self-Portraiture,” Sandra S. Phillips traces the rich tradition of self-portraiture in art “stretching from antiquity onward.” As Phillips observes, self-portraits, whether in the form of a bust from ancient Rome, a drawing by Albrecht Dürer (1471–1528), a painting by Vincent van Gogh (1853–1890)—or, additionally, the more canny incarnations of self-portraiture introduced into the photographic canon beginning with the Countess di Castiglione 2 in the nineteenth century—“are either essentially about crafting a public image or serve as studies of self-understanding.” 3 Cindy Sherman’s serial bodies of work epitomize the paradox of the photographic portrait as self-portrait in the scope of constructed “typologies” they represent. Over the course of her career Sherman (b. 1954) has used herself as a model in a number of guises, transforming into a representative of various cultural tribes, whether bus riders (as in her first series); actresses in Hollywood films of the 1950s; subjects of great painters; or, more recently, well-turned-out art patrons of a certain age, their surgically altered features exaggerated for effect. In every group of portraits, Sherman

tries on the identity of both the individual and the entire genus she represents. In Untitled #199 –A (1989, p. 36) Sherman assumes the identity of a woman in a portrait from the American Revolutionary War Era that evokes the ca. 1770s work of, say, Charles Willson Peale (1741– 1827). While Sherman subordinates her own identity in the creation of these fabricated characters, Gillian Wearing (b. 1963), by contrast, teases out the relationship between portraiture and self-portraiture by asserting her own identity even as she assumes that of others. In Me as Arbus (2008, p. 40), Wearing adopts Arbus’s haircut, clothing, and physical attitude. Moreover, her photograph is modeled on the signature style of an Arbus picture, a gesture that suggests her own ambitions while also paying homage to the earlier artist. While Sherman’s many incarnations are studies in social observation, Wearing’s mergings of identities register a more psychological exploration. It is precisely this range and nuance within the typologies of photographic portraiture and self-portraiture that underscore the singularity of the individual in society while also representing a complex of societies. Christopher McCall, director of Pier 24 Photography, has explained that the organizing principle of About Face, which he curated with Andy Pilara, is, of course, “portraiture, and one of the main vehicles is the typology, and the way people are portrayed within it.” McCall continues, “You don’t collect individual photographs from The Family, by Richard Avedon. That work is best seen as a set, as the baseball cards by Mike Mandel are a set. Referencing the typology here is due to working from the Pilara Foundation Collection, so we looked at the best pieces and the typologies started to emerge from the collection as a natural curatorial idea.” 4


Paul Strand, Blind Woman, New York, 1916

Dorothea Lange, Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California, 1936


Hendrik Kerstens, Hairnet, 2000

Alec Soth, Charles, Vasa, MN, 2002


Gillian Wearing, Me as Warhol in Drag with Scar, 2010



ortraiture has a long and varied history in art, stretching from antiquity onward. Although some of the most remarkable images that have survived are subtle portrait busts made by the ancient Romans, the portrait did not become a frequent expression until the late Middle Ages, when wealth increased and prominent individuals were able to commission large, multi-panel altar paintings. In these works, representations of religious subjects such as the Nativity, the Baptism of Christ, and other important biblical events often include likenesses of the funders, who appear as kneeling observers, usually off to the side and a little smaller than the saintly participants in the scene. They are dressed in the finery of the day, a clue that they are the patrons of the artist, the donors who paid for the work. Sometimes we even see the artist himself in such paintings. In the Renaissance there developed a sense of selfhood that resembles the self-consciousness of our own time. Renaissance thinkers and civic leaders believed in the profound potential of the individual; theirs was a humancentered universe, and this was reflected in the art of the time. It is no surprise, then, that we also see self-portraiture, which had been practiced inconsistently before, emerge as a prominent form in this period. Beginning with Albrecht Dürer (1471–1528), a German artist who used his own image not only for self examination but also for self promotion, we see the evolution of self-portraiture continue through the centuries, from the works of Rembrandt (1606–1669) to those of figures such as Gustave Courbet (1819–1877), Paul Gauguin (1849–1903), and Vincent van Gogh (1853–1890). Depending on the personality of the artist, their portraits are either essentially about crafting a public image or serve as studies in self-understanding.


Cindy Sherman, Untitled #199–A, 1989

Yasumasa Morimura, Vermeer Study: Looking Back (Mirror), 2008



Hiroshi Sugimoto, from the series Henry VIII and His Six Wives 1. Catherine of Aragon, 1999 2. Anne Boleyn, 1999






3. Jane Seymour, 1999

4. Anne of Cleves, 1999

5. Catherine Howard, 1999

6. Catherine Parr, 1999


Larry Sultan, Vanessa and Bill Getty, 2007

Larry Sultan, Denise Hale, 2007


Richard Learoyd, Hair hare, 2012

Richard Learoyd, Survivor, 2011


Photographer Unknown, Retratos pintados (Painted portraits), 1950s–1970s


Lee Friedlander Philadelphia, 1965 New York City, 1966

Lee Friedlander Self-portrait, Provincetown, Massachusetts, 1968 Self-portrait, Haverstraw, New York, 1966


Photographer Unknown, Mug shots, Scranton, Pennsylvania, ca. 1900–1940


Photographer Unknown, Mug shots, Washington State, 1915–16


August Sander, Bauerngeneration (Young Farmers), 1914


fellowship she received in 1963. Perhaps the most notable example is her final project, an untitled series shot at residences for the mentally disabled between 1969 and 1971. Whereas Arbus distanced herself from her privileged background through her choice of subjects, Ross has often used portrait photography as a means of investigating her own biography. She became known for the sensitive, full-figure, black-and-white pictures of children and youths she created following the death of her father. Those photographs, taken in 1982, were set in Eurana Park in Weatherly, Pennsylvania, a place where she had regularly spent the summer as a child in the 1950s.17 For the series Hazleton Public Schools (p. 103), created between 1992 and 1994, she returned to the schools where she and her mother and brothers had been students to search for images of her own childhood. Independent of autobiographical references, these intense solo and group portraits attest to Ross’s fascination with the innocence, vulnerability, and strength of children as well as the potential of youths standing at the threshold of adulthood. In order to do justice to the individuality of her subjects and to honor their various forms of self-presentation, Ross—as Arbus did—takes a relatively open approach to each composition and constantly develops new photographic solutions. For her series Portraits at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Washington, D.C. (1983–84, p. 102), she engaged with the recently opened memorial as both a personal and a collective site of remembrance. She photographed her subjects standing alongside the black granite wall, reading the names of service members who fought, died, or went missing in the war. These individuals are lost in thought, captured in a fragile, introspective moment of contemplation (p. 102). The memorial itself is not visible in the background of most of the pictures in the series. Moreover, the individuals Ross depicts represent a relatively broad spectrum, and the titles of the pictures do not identify them by name. As Thomas Weski has argued, these works may accordingly be viewed as a “general investigation, detached from the specific inducement, into the human capacity for grief.”18 In recognition of the fact that the combination of photographs into pictorial sequences renders successive moments simultaneous and thereby allows the juxtaposition of multiple moments of perception, many portrait photographers have used series to bring to light temporal developments and processes of transformation. Instead of creating series in which the succession of individual images adheres to an aesthetic or thematic order, they work with the sequence of the photographs’ creation or with chronologically structured pictorial progressions. Whereas all series are additively constructed, particularized sequences establish an argument with regard to the passage of time and

August Sander Konditor (Pastry Cook), 1928 Boxer (Boxers), 1929


Diane Arbus, A young man in curlers at home on West 20th Street, N.Y.C., 1966

Diane Arbus, Identical twins, Roselle, N.J., 1967


Nan Goldin, Nan one month after being battered, from The Ballad of Sexual Dependency, 1984 (still)

Nan Goldin Nan and Brian in bed, New York City, from The Ballad of Sexual Dependency, 1983 (still) Greer and Robert on the bed, New York City, from The Ballad of Sexual Dependency, 1982 (still)


David Goldblatt A farmer’s son with his nursemaid, Heimweeberg, Nietverdiend, 1964, 1964 A plot-holder, his wife and their eldest son at lunch, Wheatlands, Randfontein, September 1962, 1962

David Goldblatt, Shop assistant, Orlando West, Soweto, 1972


Pieter Hugo, David Akore, Agbogbloshie Market, Accra, Ghana, 2010

Pieter Hugo, Yaw Francis, Agbogbloshie Market, Accra, Ghana, 2009


Richard Avedon, Richard Avedon, photographer, New York, May 31, 2002, 2002


Richard Avedon, Juan Patricio Lobato, carney, Rocky Ford, Colorado, August 23, 1980, 1980

Richard Avedon, Charlene van Tighem, physical therapist, Augusta, Montana, June 26, 1983, 1983


INDEX OF PHOTOGRAPHERS This listing is arranged alphabetically by artist name. In cases where an artist is represented by more than one artwork, the works are listed in order of appearance in the catalogue. All photographs are in the Pilara Foundation Collection unless otherwise noted.

Adou b. 1973 Man Clutching Goose, 2006 Gelatin silver print, 51 x 41 ¾ in. p. 138 Man and Sheep, 2006 Gelatin silver print, 51 x 41 ¾ in. p. 139 Araki, Nobuyoshi b. 1940 Izumi Suzuki, ca. 1960 Gelatin silver print, 9 ½ x 12 ½ in. p. 124 The World of Girls, 1984 Gelatin silver print, 12 ½ x 9 ½ in. p. 125 Arbus, Diane 1923–1971 A young man in curlers at home on West 20th Street, N.Y.C., 1966 Gelatin silver print, 15 x 15 in. p. 106 Identical twins, Roselle, N.J., 1967 Gelatin silver print, 15 x 15 in. p. 107 A family on their lawn one Sunday in Westchester, N.Y., 1968 Gelatin silver print, 15 x 15 in. p. 108 A young Brooklyn family going for a Sunday outing, N.Y.C., 1966 Gelatin silver print, 15 x 15 in. p. 109 Avedon, Richard 1923–2004 Oscar Levant, pianist, Beverly Hills, California, April 12, 1972, 1972 Gelatin silver print, 16 x 16 in. p. 95 Richard Avedon, photographer, New York, May 31, 2002, 2002 Gelatin silver print, 30 x 72 in. pp. 142–43 Clarence Lippard, drifter, Interstate 80, Sparks, Nevada, August 29, 1983, 1983 Gelatin silver print, 59 ¾ x 92 ¾ in. pp. 148–49

Boyd Fortin, thirteen year old rattlesnake skinner, Sweetwater, Texas, March 10, 1979, 1979 Gelatin silver print, 56 ¼ x 45 in. Collection of Randi and Bob Fisher p. 150 B.J. Van Fleet, nine year old, Ennis, Montana, July 2, 1982, 1982 Gelatin silver print, 56 ¼ x 45 in. p. 151 Juan Patricio Lobato, carney, Rocky Ford, Colorado, August 23, 1980, 1980 Gelatin silver print, 56 ¼ x 45 in. p. 152 Charlene van Tighem, physical therapist, Augusta, Montana, June 26, 1983, 1983 Gelatin silver print, 56 ¼ x 45 in. p. 153 Roger Tims, Jim Duncan, Leonard Markley, Don Belak, coal miners, Reliance, Wyoming, August 29, 1979, 1979 Gelatin silver print, 56 ¼ x 135 in. pp. 154–55 Joe Butler, coal miner, Reliance, Wyoming, August 28, 1979, 1979 Gelatin silver print, 56 ¼ x 45 in. Collection of Randi and Bob Fisher p. 156 James Story, coal miner, Somerset, Colorado, December 18, 1979, 1979 Gelatin silver print, 56 ¼ x 45 in. Collection of Randi and Bob Fisher p. 157 Henry Kissinger, Secretary of State, Washington, D.C., June 2, 1976, 1976 Gelatin silver print, 10 x 8 in. p. 161 Barbara Jordan, U.S. Congresswoman (Texas), New York, July 14, 1976, 1976 Gelatin silver print, 10 x 8 in. p. 162


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