Exhibition Review: Facing the Camera
Review by: Billy Anania
A waxed paper negative by John Beasley Greene (1832-1856) hangs on a wall at Hans P. Kraus Jr. Fine Photographs. Venus de Milo on rooftop in Paris is exactly as it suggests, an armless statue stiffly positioned on a raised platform. The scene’s reddish-grey tone is accentuated by dark shadows on the statue’s body, contrasting with the inverted color and brightness of the format.
Even at that time, photographers were challenging conventional notions of identity, or what it means to capture likeness. Should a portrait adhere to specific conventions? Can a statue convey some insight into the human soul? And right at this intersection of art and practicality is where the photographer’s style comes through.
A new exhibition at the Upper East Side gallery examines interpretations of portrait photography since its inception, and the many idiosyncrasies of human expression. Facing the Camera is an eclectic selection of works from the 19th century to the present. Contributions include prints from historic photographers plus newer works by contemporaries.
Included in the exhibition are three 1862 albumen prints by Duchenne de Boulogne, a pioneering neurologist and physiologist who first made the connection between facial expressions and human emotions through muscle activity. Photographs of his most iconic subject were taken by Duchenne’s collaborator Adrien Tournachon, and hold high esteem among artists and scientists alike.
Giuseppe Enrie’s Detail of the Shroud of Turin from 1931 shows a linen cloth bearing the likeness of a man alleged to be Jesus of Nazareth. Enrie’s print was at the forefront of photo technology at the time, and displays the holy object in great detail. Arguably more speculative than other works, the portrait provides documentation of a historical artifact, and context for 20th-century European Catholicism.
Also featured is a pair of albumen prints taken by Lewis Carroll, who was an early pioneer of the medium. Carroll’s 1860 portrait of Oxford friend Reginald Southey shows the English physician from a side profile. A second portrait shows a young girl named Xie Kitchin staring directly at the camera. At the gallery is the only known untrimmed print from the negative in existence.
Finally, a 1997 untitled silhouette by Adam Fuss was developed from a camera-less photogram on toned silver print. The result is fascinating and bizarre: A shadowed self-portrait of the photographer from side profile, gazing upward. Set against a stark white background, the piece is at once ominous and serene, suggesting that portrait photographers will continue to find new methods of representation.
Facing the Camera will be on view at 962 Park Ave until March 16. For more information, call 212-794-2064