Fact, Fiction and Truth:
September 19 - December 16, 1995
Fiction and Truth: Contemporary Portraits examines the work of fourteen
photographers, including two teamswhose art explores the nature of photographic
truth. From family snapshots to driver's license photo l.D.'s, pictures of people
are among photographic most common subjects. For most of us they are also a
concrete representation of our memories and tangible records of our past. Sufficient
to rival the painted portrait in the 19th century, photographic portraiture
from the time of its invention has been closely allied to the documentary traditioncreating
a sense that it is in some way replicating the experience of seeing and faithfully
recording the sitter. By capturing the external visage and with it an implied
glimpse at the inner self, it presumes an impossible objectivity. The photographic
portrait, whether shot with a camera or created on the computer, is a chimeraan
image captured in light and time, completed by inference, closure, and projection
in the mind of the viewer.
In an age when direct experience can be convincingly simulated
and infotainment merges with the evening news, fact and fiction become
more difficult to disentangle. In this exhibition some photographers vigorously
investigate the artifice of photography with a clear awareness that the
image is an untrustworthy representationsome with a deadpan acknowledgment
of the irony involved. In the work of others, deviation from reality provides
a metaphor through which to better understand the world. The works employ
a full range of technical possibilitiesfrom computer imaging to
toy cameras. In all the works there is an awareness of the medium's ability
to show more than a surface.
At first glance Keith Cottingham's portraits of adolescent
boys who bear a strong family resemblance, seem to be the most traditional
work in the exhibition. Placed against a black background, the waist-length
figures seem stark yet familiar. On closer inspection there is something
odd about them. These are not real children but "fictitious portraits"
fabricated on the computer. The portraits are an amalgam of drawing, sculpted
clay modeling and a sampling of eyes, hair, and skin tones from a range
of individuals of various ages, genders and ethnic backgrounds. Digitally
produced these children exist only in the photograph. They are all the
more disturbing because they are not lifeless, but, in fact, appear to
have a personality, an attitudethey could live next door.
More disturbing in appearance are Aziz + Cucher's unearthly
portraits of individuals and couples. Their mixture of truth and fiction
confound some of the basic underlying assumptions about the nature of
photography as a record. Created by digitally removing some of the subjects'
facial featureseyes, mouths, nostrilsthen "grafting" skin
in their place, these large, color-saturated Ektachrome portraits, photographed
against stark backgrounds, simultaneously document each freckle and pore.
They are a contradictory blendreal yet not human. Anthony Aziz and
Sammy Cucher have created subjects who have limited means of interaction
with the world. It is hard to know what these droid-like people are thinkingthe
viewer's traditional mechanisms for reading the sitter's mood or intent
are also gone. They seem remote and alien.
Projection and closure play a role in finding a human
face in the colorful, abstract blobs of plastic photographed in Laurie
Simmons and Allan McCullum's series, Actual Photographs. These
improbable portraits, based on the faces of train set figurines which
stand a half inch tall, have been captured with the aid of a medical microscope.
While they provide a lighter take on portraiture, they also probe the
innate tendency to find the human face in the sketchiest of details.
The blurted, highly animated subjects of Barbara Pollack
are in essence "found" photographs. Captured with aging or damaged Polaroid
cameras, Barbara Pollack's Cibachrome Head Shots exploit the limitations
of simple point and shoot cameras. The resulting images depict subjects
outside the optimal circumstancesa four foot range, in a well-lighted
setting, against a middle-gray groundand document the effects of
under-lighting and its resulting record of motion. Pollack focuses her
attention on the "out-takes" or what might in the normal course of events
be a discarded photo. In these portraits the distortions amplify and animate
the sitters in unexpected ways.
Gary Schneider's oddly lighted subjects appear to exist
on multiple planes within the print. They are "painted with light" in
total darknessthe result of long exposure times, during which the
camera records changes in the lighting as well as changes in the subjects'
expressions during the pose. The erratic spotting with light creates a
sense of drama and imparts a emotional intensity. Slight blurring suggests
a living, breathing person, pushing the limits of the mechanical process
and techniques of the camera.
John grill's engrams, photographs based on hypothetical
memory traces, suggest dreamlike apparitions. The work is produced through
an intentional and controlled process of image deterioration. His technique
often involves multiple steps of processing and reprocessing. The images
in the Lehman exhibition include four shot from life and four appropriated
from the television screen. Technically the work may involve - toy cameras,
infrared film, bleaching and toning in the darkroom, and re-shooting with
a pinhole camera. Grill's chiaroscuro studies of the face reveal the subject
slowly. The scale is small setting up an intimate relationship and drawing
the viewer closer . The result is an ethereal portrait like those one
sees when they are on the edge of sleep.
The fragmented juxtapositions of Louis Lussier's large
format prints also have a dream like logic to the imagery. Profiles placed
against sea and sky become landscapesmountains and deserts. Stairs
lead out into darkness and shadow figures become surrogates for the self.
Lussier's sources range from film stills to old photographs. The recombined
images suggest a narrative.
Also slow to unfold are the reticent, barely perceptible
portraits of Adam Fuss' Untitled (Black portrait) series. Only
after prolonged scrutiny do the face and torso of a young childsculpted
by a dim light and buried within the black chemical surface of the gelatin
silver print begin to emerge from a ground of darkness. Once brought
into view, the figure remains largely a captive of the photographic medium.
With a blink of the eye it disappears again.
Isolated objects alluding to the portrait tradition stand
as surrogates in the silver gelatin prints of J. John Priola. In one work,
what appears to be an old family portrait of a man and a womanlike
those which might be found on a dresser top or in a locketsuggests
a narrative at which we can only guess. The double portrait, a woman behind
a man, possibly a mother and her son, is creased and torn in half, beheading
the sitters. In another work ,a broken porcelain bust of a young boyan
idealized representationis cracked and hollow.
The issue of memory is also addressed in Bill Jacobson's
ongoing series, Interim Photographs. Here it is defined in terms
of a dialectic between presence and absence. Fading images immersed in
light deal with reality metaphorically. Photographed against a clinical
white paper background, these portraits provide, in the words of the photographer,
"a statement about personal desire and collective loss, a drawing on feelings
around the tentativeness and vulnerability of life in the age of AIDS
. . ." Jacobson's black and white negatives, printed on color paper, lend
a sepia tone to the photograph and a warm flesh tone to the portrait.
In these diffuse images the form restates the content.
Tatiana Parcero's photographs explore identity in feminist
terms, contrasting the exterior surface of her face with schematic representations
of female internal organs. Using her body as a subject, she superimposes
engravings from 19th century medical books. Parcero's self-portraits are
veiled and coded by her anatomy.
Kathy Grove's series of deconstructed images is also connected to a feminist perspective. In (The Other Series) After Smith, (The Other Series) After Kertesz and (The Other Series) After Muybridge, Grove simply removes the female subject leaving behind a small boy alone on the forest trail in Eugene Smith's famous work, an empty sofa in Kertesz', and empty drapery in various shapes created by a motion study in the case of the Muybridge. In After Lange, Grove transforms Dorothea Lange's famous nineteen thirties icon of the Depression, Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California, into a glamorous model. With the composition essentially the same, Grove has executed a makeover by removing dirt, blemishes, and age, as well as, adding make-up. As with the other works, the additions and subtractions have provided a new sense of what is real, a different truth, and another fiction.
Aziz and Cucher
J. John Priola
Laurie Simmons / Allan McCollum