The first, 'Comfort Women', is represented on the cover that should be viewable by the link above. Written by Bill Kouwenhoven, it illustrates and reviews the series of portraits, made in recent years, by Jan Benning, of 'Comfort Women' from Japanese Occupied Indonesia in WWII. The subject matter is sad and disturbing, but that is not for this post. I really wanted to comment on the portrait-making,
- The writer's opening says 'It is the eyes that get you at first ...', which is exactly the comment I made about the portraits of Steve McCurry. Benning's portraits, several of which are reprinted in full A4 page size in the magazine, are all head and shoulders framing; full face to the camera; looking, without any distinctive expression, deadpan in effect, straight back at the viewer. They appear to have been lit from above and behind the camera, down onto the women's faces.
- It is indeed the stares that get you, all different but all challenging the viewer in a similar way, and then it is the 'every detail' in the faces that expand the story - all of them with, for me, an elegance and dignity that pays tribute to their strength and stoicism, albeit the accompanying personal stories demonstrate the price they have all paid for the abuse they suffered all those years ago.
- As portraits, they are stunning, complex, and even beautiful. They cannot, in effect, be viewed in isolation from the background, despite what I said above, but they do, I think, deserve the use of words such as elegance and beauty.