Portrait Exhibitions Part 1 – National Portrait Gallery and The Photographers Gallery

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William Eggleston Portrait Exhibition

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William Eggleston. ‘Untitled’

At the National Portrait Gallery, photographer William Eggleston presents a collection of works from the 1960’s to his his current photography.  Eggleston captures the everyday in which his subjects include spaces, people and objects where he is particularly known for his rich use of colours.  Eggleston’s work include evocative portraits of ordinary people, capturing moments in limbo.  While some portraits have the subject acknowledging the camera, Eggleston also creates anonymous portraits where he leaves the audience to conduct an image of a person through aspects such as fashion, scenery and other gestures.  Eggleston uses a dye transfer process which highlights his unique eye for colour photography.  Eggleston also features various black and white images and contact prints within the display which bring a reminder of his earlier processes as well as a sketchbook of vibrant doodles he used to record his practice.  Eggleston brings a sense of both formality and informality to this exhibition as he stages his images to appear spontaneous.

For example, one of his images features a perspective from the back of a woman’s head as a second person, who is also anonymous, sits opposite her in a dark room.  The lighting in this image is low and the woman holds a cigarette which could suggest the image is set in a smoking room.  The style of the woman’s hair is perfectly layered suggesting the 60’s era and her head blocks the view of the second person.  Eggleston cleverly disguises both individuals this way as it leads us to question not only who the woman is but also who she is sitting opposite from.

One thing that all the images of the show featured have in common is how they each give the impression of an occurring event.  When will the young lady lying on the grass wake up? Is the man and the Chauffeur leaving or have they just arrived?  There is a continuous sense that there is something missing in these images that would never be revealed to us and this is what makes them all the more intriguing.

Black Chronicles Portrait Exhibition

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‘Albert Jonas and John Xiniwe of the African choir’

Black Chronicles is also a current display at the National Portrait Gallery in which over 40 images feature depicting black people of history in the 19th and early 20th century.  The exhibition brings focus to African and Asian cultures within the British domain in which this acknowledges the black immigration in Britain. This event is in partnership with Autograph ABP, an arts charity in the London which is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The exhibition instantly draws the viewer in as the walls themselves are painted black in which quotes from the late Stuart Hall feature on the walls above the images.  The images in the display are a gathered collection from both Autograph and the Hulton Archive which brings discovered imagery of black people including celebrity and slaves.  One of the most striking images in the show features a large print titled of two boys on a platform (‘Albert Jonas and John Xiniwe of the African choir’); while one sits on a chair, the other is handling the camera.  The contrast is effective in this image as the subject matter is placed against a white background and similarly to other images, markings on the original camera film reel is visible in the image.  The portraits themselves are mostly formal which is why the image of the two choir boys particularly stands out.  The expressions in each of the individual portraits may appear somewhat intense, however there is also a sense of pride and honour in how they pose for the camera.

Eggleston’s and the ‘Black Chronicles‘ exhibits differ largely from one another and they both represent narrative in different ways.  While Eggleston allows his images alone to show narrative, ‘Black Chronicles‘ presents text alongside the images to give more information of the each of the individuals, telling us specifically who they are. Eggleston also does this, however there is a sense of informality.

‘Made You Look’ at The Photographers Gallery

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Presented as a grouper exhibition by several photographers, ‘Made You Look’ brings a variety of portraits that takes a look at the black ‘dandy’ male in the early 21st century.  The show explores the justification of identity in style and reputation that objectifies black men in the United States as well as the United Kingdom.  The images featured give reference to music culture and trends which highlights reputation and profile as key aspects of the message brought to us.

One series of images in this show features several portraits of a colourfully dressed black man stood against a similarly striking background.  This series brings a strong focus on texture, tropical colour that refers to African culture as well as featured objects sitting within the framework of the images.  As an example to my own creative practice, this presents a new way of inserting objects into the gallery space that also refers to the cultural aspect seen in the images.

‘Alma Haser: Cosmic Surgery’ at the Photographers Gallery

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Alma Haser. ‘Alexandra’

German portrait photographer Alma Haser brings sculptural aspects to her work in which she uses paper oragami to create ambiguous 3 dimensional character to her representations of people. Haser merges collage into her work that brings a futuristic feel to her subjects where the identity of the subject is distorted.  As an additional exhibit in the gallery, Haser physically allows the audience to create a picture of what a person looks like by paying close attention to what we can see within the shape of the origami sculptures. Shooting against a pale background, Haser brings contrasting colour to her subjects as she also has them raise their heads slightly to a higher angle.  Haser encourages us to piece together the broken visuals of the individuals face bringing a message that represents self identity that is never fully taken away no mater how broken or changed it may seem.

References

ARR National Portrait Gallery (2016) ‘Black Chronicles‘ {Online} Available from: http://www.npg.org.uk (Accessed 26/07/2016)

ARR National Portrait Gallery (2016) ‘William Eggleston‘ {Online} Available from: http://www.npg.org.uk (Accessed 26/07/2016)

ARR The Photographers Gallery (2016) ‘Alma Haser: Cosmic Surgery‘ {Online} available from: http://www.thephotographersgallery.org.uk (Accessed 26/07/2016)

ARR The Photographers Gallery (2016) ‘MADE YOU LOOK: Dandyism and Black Masculinity‘ {Online} available from: http://www.thephotographersgallery.org.uk (Accessed 26/07/2016)

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