European Portrait Photography since 1990

Again with relation to my figure work and utilising the human figure in photography I ordered this book. This was a much more successful purchase for my requirements. It is really the accompanying book of an exhibition that took place in Rotterdam, Holland in 2015. It looks like it was a great show, with a broad and heavy-hitter involvement.

The exhibition makes the point that we live in the age of the portrait – essentially the camera phone selfie. In the days of the painter, only rich people could afford a portrait, and reflectively the portrait was a statement of wealth. Now of course any idiot can take a selfie and of course the distribution of that portrait can be spread even further, instantly.

For me, the internet was pretty much invented around 1996 – so the great majority of this exhibition has been produced within the internet age. Our perception of the portrait has had to change along with that, and we are all far more aware of a visual portrait. But a strong plus point of this is that it has given great strength and new interest in the portrait. Artists have had to reevaluate the portrait with the selfie-world in mind. They have had to accept its place, and react and comment on it.

In this exhibition/ book we see the variety of the ‘portrait’ – family images from Thomas Struth, passport photographs from Gillian Wearing, profile photographs, writer portraits, glamour portraits, official portraits, etc.) and ‘just as many applications and uses (the pop idol in a teenager’s bedroom, the king in the courtroom, the mayor in the town hall, the dictator in the town square, the loved one in the purse, the deceased on the mantelpiece, the writer on the back cover, the artist in the museum’.

Portraits have for centuries been a part of a certain social group, and served a certain requirement. Now they have an even great social influence and reach. The artist and photographer needs to accept this, work with this and redefine their place within that. They are loaded with meaning – whether personal, apparently personal, or coldly descriptive. The have a loaded significance. So rather than dilute the effectiveness of the portrait, I believe the proliferation of the portrait/ selfie has in fact invigorated its use as a form by visual artists.


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