Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Hotshoe Magazine Oct-Nov 2010

Two interesting and relevant articles from the most recent edition of Hotshoe.

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.
Then there is and article about Brian Griffin, written by Miranda Gavin, in the context of the 'Face to Face: A Retrospective' exhibition in Birmingham, and some of his portraits appearing in the'Road to 2012' exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery.  I'm not looking to pick out too much from this article, but 'Portraiture is an immensely difficult genre and hugely underrated' is worth repeating.  With 40+ years experience behind him he should know what he's talking about.  He doesn't believe that a lot of people apply themselves to portraits in a 'considered way' and with enough 'energy and interest'.  He doesn't rate the Taylor Wessing portrait competition - '.. it's pretty awful, really.'  The more recent portraits, mainly groups, illustrated in the article have a 'staged' look about them, and he describes them as 'very TV, very filmic'.  Certainly they are very different from those of Jan Benning!

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