Dignity and Distinction

What, in fact, could the people (gypsies, miners, aristocrats, models, night owls, and others) gathered here in portraits have in common but the dignity conferred upon them by the photographers who took their picture? These artists’ approaches also share crossreferences, as well as photographic and pictorial skills displayed in chiaroscuros, framings, poses, textures and drapings of How the garments, head placements, and, above all, their subjects’ gazes.

How the photographed subject is treated varies widely depending on the artist’s motivation and context of reference. Pierre Gonnord photographs people of all ages and origins, most of the anonymous, who are revealed to us with a sort of humility. Their faces bear the hard marks of time and their living conditions, and yet their gaze is intense, their presence strong. With chiaroscuro lighting and the play on poses and draping of garments, Gonnord’s manner of portraiture ennobles these individuals’ lives.

Christian Tagliavini turns his attention to fashion. Here, the subjects are effaced behind the models. Tagliavini borrows from the aesthetics of a particular era to create the clothing and stagings that he photographs. His images testify to detailed craftwork with subtle variations of textures, colours, and cuts, evoking the codes of sociability of an epoch as well as the many possibilities for individuation. For him, dignity arises from distinction.

Gabriel Coutu-Dumont literally transfigures members of the night-owl crowd in Glasgow. Using a portable photography studio, he made a series of eighty-five individual portraits against a black background, which he then presents as a portrait gallery in the manner of nineteenth-century French salons. The use of chiaroscuro and the poses highlight personal clothing styles as well as the spark that inhabits and distinguishes each of his subjects.

In all of these cases, this is high art based on mastery of technique and the artists’ sharp yet sensitive gaze at the multiplicity of individuals’ lives. [Translated by Käthe Roth.]

Jacques Doyon


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