While visiting the town of Gulu in Northern Uganda, Italian photographer Martina Bacigalupo discovered a very unusual set of studio portraits. Despite being perfectly composed, none of them featured a subject’s face as they were all cut out leaving blank rectangles in the photograph. Oddly enough, it appeared to be a common practice in Gulu for taking ID photos.
Bacigalupo visited Uganda searching for ways to document this community, which was suffering from violent conflicts. The first faceless photograph she had stumbled upon lead her to meet Obal Denis, the owner of the oldest photography studio in town, the Gulu Real Art Studio (est. 1973).
“The portraits were well composed, with subjects seated on a chair or on a bench, with a blue, white or red curtain behind them, in various poses and modes of dress. Obal <…> told me the secret behind those pictures: he only had a machine that would make four ID photos at a time, and since most of his clients didn’t need four pictures, he therefore preferred to take an ordinary photograph and cut an ID photo out of it.”
For Bacigalupo, these ‘leftover’ images were the purest form of representation of Gulu’s society. She gathered the unused prints and interviewed clients of Obal’s studio. To most Ugandans, who suffered from more than two decades of war, taking new ID photos marked important changes in their lives: getting a driver’s license, starting a new job or applying for a loan. The value of such events is perfectly conveyed through the subject’s pose, gesture, clothing and other subtle details.
Like many directors, Stanley Kubrick (known for such iconic films as The Shining, Clockwork Orange, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Full Metal Jacket) began his love of film for the medium’s capacity to immediately capture scenes developing around him. The award-winning director’s photographs show early promise, mastering stylistic elements such as composition, lighting, balance and subject, which might not be surprising. However, the young Kubrick’s subject matter, mostly street-scenes with everyday New York and Greenwich Village people, life and struggles, might surprise some coming from the famed science fiction director. The photos, which have a nostalgic tone not necessarily associated with the forward-thinking director, certainly bring a romantic mood to the seemingly simpler time.
Many of these photos were taken during the 1940′s, while Kubrick was employed as a photographer for Look Magazine (a gig he landed while still a student at City College New York). It was while working for Look that Kubrick began associating with the film programs at the Museum of Modern Art, a connection which eventually launched Kubrick into a career in his life-long interest of film. (via everyday-i-show)
In Lauren Roche‘s paintings, like the best portraiture, there exists a story found in discrepant details. Amidst heavily applied broad stroke of paint and drips, black dots appear to be lactating from human and animals, insinuating teets as opposed to breasts. Teeth are bared in grinless maws not typically associated with people or their pets. And yet there exists an honest and humble beauty in Roche’s rendering of her subjects. Explaining that many subjects are taken from faces of friends and pets, as well as old photographs used for reference, the Minneapolis-based artist adds,
“The figures in my images are facets of my subconscious and take action in a pictorial language and don’t transfer into names for me. I like to leave the interpretation of personality up to the viewer, because that’s what I do.”
Roche’s paintings possess a rawness that cannot be denied, balanced in equal measure by a deft rendering of facial expressions. Perhaps the beauty of these paintings comes from their singular nature, and their anachronistic charm, evocative of a different era of capturing images. When asked the purpose of a focus on portraiture, particularly in an uploadable Digital Age, Roche responds,
“The purpose of portraiture is to give the maker and viewer the space for an interpretation of the subject that is private and flexible, fluid and idiosyncratic. Its difficult to compare portraiture to a cell phone picture because the process is so different. Drawing portraits is like a form of meditation and reflection for me and taking a cell phone picture feels more like a superficial gesture to prove that I’m enjoying myself.”
Roche’s work will be featured in the upcoming Two Dark Horses at Bockley Gallery in Minneapolis, MN, alongside Andrew Mazorol and Tynan Kerr (who when painting collectively go by AMTK, previously featured here) and Lindsay Rhyner. The exhibition, named after one of Roche’s paintings (top of page) opens this Friday, March 21st and runs through April 26th, 2014.
In 2004, artist Kim Alsbrooks began painting regal portraits on discarded cans in a series titled My White Trash Family. The work, which features both male and female subjects dressed in elaborate wigs, stately ascots, and enormous hats, is a juxtaposition of literal trash and fine portraiture. It was as initially inspired by Alsbrooks’ friend, a women’s history professor, who pointed out the historical biases that are present in art. In response, Alsbrooks’ tiny paintings mimic those that you’d find in museum collections. The fact that these exquisite works are produced on trash rather than quality materials is both ironic and amusing.
My White Trash Family is prolific; Alsbrooks has produced over 600 paintings since it started. All beverage cans are pre-flattened, mostly by passing cars or trucks. She describes her technique, writing, “One cannot flatten the trash. It just doesn’t work. It must be found so that there are no wrinkles in the middle and the graphic should be well centered. Then the portraits are found that are complimentary to the particular trash. Generally I depict miniature portraits from the watercolor on ivory era (17th-18th century more or less). The trash is gessoed in the oval shape, image drawn in graphite, painted in oils and varnished.”
Part of the success of this series is found in the dedication to craft, and the fact that she paints miniature portraits really well. But, what ultimately makes these works appealing is not necessarily tangible. The reference to high society and its traditional paths challenged by cheap, “lower class” items is instantly recognizable and relatable at a time when the one percenters rule the world. (Via Booooooom!)
Cornelia Hediger‘s series of “Doppelgänger” portraits portray contrasting aspects of her self, creating suspenseful and awkward narratives. For this series, Hediger shoots single images in the same environment and composes them in a grid. Her style of composition allows for the distortion of sizes in both space and body; the grids she uses to configure these distortions also break up her images, further reflecting the presented fractured sense of self. Hediger prefers to work alone as an artist because of the time and patience it takes to design her set and capture all of the images in just the right positions.
Of her series, Hediger says, “I was interested in exploring the concept of the Doppelgänger in a broader way. Doppelgänger in German means ‘double walker’, it is a ghostly double of a living person, an omen of death and a harbinger of bad luck. The idea of the Doppelgänger also allows me look the alter ego, the conscious mind vs the unconscious mind, inner conflicts, the duality between good and evil and split personalities – the concept gives me plenty of material to think about and work with.” (via this isn’t happiness and feature shoot)
Israeli photographer Dori Caspi has spent 10 years capturing personal and intimate portraits of the Himba African tribe, a tribe that is facing extinction. For this particular series, Caspi traveled to Namibia 15 times and formed a close relationship with the people of the Himba village. This village has been encountering a progressive amount of challenges, including the intrusion of roads upon their land, and the increasingly severe threat of the AIDS epidemic which has the potential to eradicate the village entirely.
“My camera was never used as a tool of anthropological or research-like documentation of the tribes’ way of life, but always as an instrument with which I could express my love for its wonderful people, and my admiration of their inner and physical beauty. They had opened their hearts and huts to me and with time, as we shared deeper and intimate relations, they became my second family.”
Caspi’s most recent project is taking place in Southern Ethiopia, where he is capturing the tribes from the Lower Omo Valley. “In contrary to my intimate relations with the Himba people, here I have to build trust, to create an atmosphere which would allow me to photograph the tribes’ people in a relaxed situation, yet proud and reserved as they naturally are.”
Joe Black is an artist who uses Pop Art against itself. Collecting iconic imagery (often choosing those which have already been famously exploited by other artists), Black creates large-scale hued portraits using copious amounts of consumer items. One of many artists using collected masses of materials into larger mosiac-style works, Black claims that he is open to using any material as long as it is small and plentiful (past pieces have used Lego pieces, toy soldiers, pins, ball bearings, badges) and relates to the source image. These images, which are best seen from a distance of fifty feet, offer a contextual surprise for viewers upon closer inspection.
Though trained as an artist and painter, Black claims to be uncomfortable labeling himself a professional artist, preferring to consider his work more based on image-making and craftsmanship. One such aspect is the time-consuming application of several thousand smaller pieces which make up his whole images, which Black hand-alters by using aerosol to add tones that give gentle gradients which become the lines and shading of the portrait. (via u1u11)
None of the people photographed for Klaus Pichler‘s newest series, “Just the Two of Us” are dressed in Halloween costumes. For this project, Pichler documents Austrians involved with various types of costume play (cosplay) at home in full costume. By capturing these costumers in their domestic spheres, Pichler allows his subjects the comfort of home, but for objective viewers of the work, the subjects could feel a bit out of place.
“Normally, all the costumes and traditions, they have one thing in common: there is some kind of public use of these costumes,” Pichler explains. Some of his subjects are enthusiastic participants of the Carnival season, which is called Fasching in Austria, while others are part of a LARP – live action role play – community. Pichler even captures portraits of the Krampus and the Perchten – traditional Austrian figures associated with Christmas and Wintertime who are often conflated.
“Who hasn’t had the desire just to be someone else for awhile? Dressing up is a way of creating an alter ego and a second skin which one’s behaviour can be adjusted to. Regardless of the motivating factors which cause somebody to acquire a costume, the main principle remains the same: the civilian steps behind the mask and turns into somebody else…’Just the Two of Us’ deals with both: the costumes and the people behind them.”