Juror Statement – Portraits 2015
For The Center for Fine Art Photography
When asked to describe “What is a portrait?”, it’s a surprisingly difficult question to answer. On a very basic level, it can be described as a visual representation of an individual person. This representation can run the gamut of an idealized image meant to flatter, perhaps an impression of personality or social standing, or even just an abstract element of the individual.
The portrait is socially constructed, and the notion of identity and how to depict it changes through time and cultural context. In the Renaissance period, for example, lifelikeness was the norm, later on it was the spiritual aspect of the subject, and in Medieval portraits the use of symbolic content was pervasive. Today, the portrait is made within a rapidly shifting cultural and artistic context. The very nature of the meaning of identity is also deeply questioned—not just its representation but also its authenticity. Nowhere else is this better witnessed that in contemporary photography.
Previously, we might have broken down the types of photographic portraiture into neat parcels such as formal, candid, environmental and so on. Now, these demarcations are less clear, as are their purpose and subsequent use and understanding.
When jurying the Portraits 2015 exhibition, for The Center for Fine Art Photography, it was my intention to ensure the selections broadly reflect what was submitted. The resulting 50 photographs represent—to a good degree—the visual trends and concerns that became apparent when looking through the 3000+ images.
Amongst the selections are portraits that comment on a societal, collective identity of our time. Many are particularly arresting for the combination of the photographer’s use of process and material in depicting their subject. A number of quietly spoken, personal narratives are presented, that also reach out on a universal level. Others utilized photographic conventions—frame, light, composition—to excellent effect.
All of the photographs in this exhibition are fabulous, and each and every photographer should be commended. It’s always difficult to select winners. With a less than 2% chance of being selected, the 50 photographs here are already winners.
That said, some of the stand-out photographs, for me, were those that seemed to defy convention, those that made me look and look again, and those that I could not remove from my mind’s eye once viewed. I was particularly impressed by “Women of War” (Sebastiano Tomada), “Untitled” (Sharron Diedrichs), “Jacek Z.” (Sebastian Holzknecht) and “Mother Series No. 4 (Self-Portrait)” (Elizabeth Orcutt) amongst others.
I selected “Donia (Amsterdam, 2014) by Alyce Haliday McQueen for an Honorable Mention because of its simplicity and sparse, but significant use of visual signs, that inform us of place and time. The second Honorable Mention is awarded to “Voyeur” by Eric Gant, partly due to the exquisite use of light, and slithers of information that halt the photograph from existing as merely poetic.
“Olympia (after Manet)” by Niki Grangruth and James Kinser received the Juror Selection for the photograph’s utter ‘stop in your tracks and look at me‘ energy. Despite the abundance of appropriations of the ‘Olympia’ painting, and its use as a narrative and aesthetic framework, this photograph succeeds in being fresh and original. The return of the gaze is nothing short of arresting. The use of costume hovers just enough above kitsch, to bring forth a quiet humor, while maintaining a serious composure. This is not an image of mirth, it is meticulously staged, very well informed and demonstrates a fantastic use of light and color.
_Debra Klomp Ching, January 2015.