Faces: Beyond Appearances

[Spring/Summer 2011]

In this issue, queers, media darlings, Aboriginals, female bodybuilders, and crack addicts form a highly heterogeneous portrait gallery that challenges our ideas about identity. These unsettling images reveal unexpected strengths or vulnerabilities, leading us to re-evaluate our perceptions. They captivate us, enticing us to stop and study a series of details that prove to be very revealing.

Traditionally, the portrait is conceived as the expression of an identity. We know, however, that appearance – in its physical, sartorial, gestural, and ritual dimensions – throws up a filter that leads to codification, interpretation, categorization, and prejudice. It is these perceptions that the photographers featured in these pages question and problematize by turning their lenses on identities – life experiences that may appear unique from the point of view of a certain standard – which are juxtaposed with works on idealized media images.

JJ Levine’s series Queer Portraits offers a plural vision of gay identity, far from any stereotype. Each of these portraits of friends and close relations, captured in a domestic setting, conveys their individuality in an intimate, evocative way. The images, all of them simple but very controlled, emanate a sense of naturalness, confidence, and peace that makes them both touching and revealing. A similar sense of comfort pervades Levine’s other series, in which she pursues her explorations of identitary markers through games involving permutations of gender roles that are frankly amusing.

Tony Fouhse’s work is of another order; he photographs addicts in the street, both day and night, in the Lowertown neighbourhood of Ottawa. Fouhse’s images convey all states of dependence, from apparent normalcy to different stages of crisis or disintegration, as well as moments of tenderness and support. The series User, however, seeks to transfigure this dependence with compositions ranging from natural documentary style to figures of the sublime and tragic, conferring a lost dignity upon his subjects. Fouhse’s photographs call out.

Martin Schoeller has taken advantage of his editorial and commission work to produce a series of close-up portraits of known figures, mixed with those of aboriginal people in Amazonia. Printed in very large format and without touch-ups, these images convey all the details of these faces, , in contrast to the usual media image manipulation. Schoeller continues his research on the ambiguities of appearance in a recent series that seeks to reveal the in-between identity of women who take part in competitive bodybuilding.

The climate of trust that emanates from these photographs as a whole seems particularly remarkable – especially because each of these series, in its own way, is based on a duality, a perturbation, a zone of risk. That all of these people agreed to let themselves be seen this way constitutes, from portfolio to portfolio, an affirmation, an appeal, or a questioning of the hypertrophy of appearance.
Translated by Käthe Roth

Jacques Doyon

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