Two students ©Tina Bartney.
The bozar photo exhibition “faces now” is a necessary reflection on our public image. The corresponding exhibition on portraits in the Renaissance in the Low Countries, “faces then”, takes us to the time when people started to reproduce their faces for reasons other than the representation of earthly or heavenly power. The opposition between the portrait in the Renaissance and photography now is more than a contrast of techniques and social references. It is a journey into the self.
Portrait ©Thomas Ruff.
Our times seem to be determined by the digital multiplication of our private image that becomes public. Our photographs are permanently available on the web, with or without our consent. We ourselves publicize our image to get recognition and reputation. I often wonder what criteria people use to choose their photos in Facebook, LinkedIn, Tinder, or any other social network. Seen from outside, our pictures can be categorized in the different sections the human race departmentalizes itself—from the basic three social classes to the various, but finite, urban tribes. Although portraitists today have a more challenging task than ever to materialize our unique personality in a picture (since from selfies to studio photos our images are ubiquitous) this exhibition proves that there is no lack of new visual ideas.
Uomo espresso ©Exactitudes.
“Faces now” is flooded with natural light. White is predominant on the walls and our attention focuses easily on the photos. The palette is striking—from the sobriety of black and white portraits to the intense chromaticism of the rest; regarding size, large predominates, with some compositions made of smaller items and some few monumental photos. In the series of Exactitudes, a balanced combination of size and colour portraits different people with the same attire and pose, forcing our attention to realise human diversity. One portrait among all, maybe for its resemblances with Antoine Van Dyck’s, caught my attention. In “Two Students” by Tina Bartney, the two schoolboys, perhaps two Etonians, are standing full-face and in three quarters representing with apparent classicism their class status and privileges. After thorough inspection, you will discover in the fair-haired boy more than a beautiful face: clothes that don’t fit perfectly, strong fists and the word “laundry” written with a pen on his left hand. Not only is his portrait partially deceptive but also his identity. He is neither a man nor a child and his personality when the photo was taken may be as fleeting as ours in any specific moment of our lives.
Anthonis Mor. Selfportrait.
“Faces then” is, by contrast, dimly lit. The walls are covered in rich silk-like red textile. Religious references abound in the canvases representing the upcoming bourgeoisie. Nevertheless you can recognize a distinct personality in every portrait—along with the dreams and aspirations of someone who passed away five centuries ago. In the portrait by Matsys you don’t realise at first the profusion of details. When you have watched it for a while, you can detect the hairs of his bear and the capillary veins in the nape of his neck and chin. Accuracy is not exclusive of our modern techniques, neither the search of what makes us all singular.
Quentin Matsys. Portrait of an old man.