Copyright © 2002, Photographic Resource Center, Inc.
This Introduction as well as the Artists' Statements represent the wall text from the PRC's exhibition.
As we approach the holidays, when family and friends gather, it seems apt to consider the group portrait. What moments or situations, for example, compel us to produce a portrait as well as inspire us to call out, “everyone, quick, get together for a group photograph”? What relationships do we address, solidify, or even evade, during this time, and how might photography in turn reflect and possibly affect them? Much like a holiday gathering itself, this exhibition brings together emerging and mid-career photographers who engage and extend ideas of narrative and group portraiture—time-honored genres that traverse the diverse fields of fine art, commercial, and vernacular photography as well as painting and literature. This project acknowledges the increasing attention paid to such ideas today by highlighting the work of Julie Blackmon, Ben Gest, Jessica Todd Harper, Amy Montali, and Sage Sohier.
This group show brings together narrative works featuring two or more people, with some capturing even larger assemblies. Moreover, certain portraits are best understood as and in a group, with the grander meaning being cumulative. Part of this renewed interest in narrative and group portraiture certainly owes a debt to the social commentaries and class studies of Tina Barney and the staged, often surreal, environments of Gregory Crewdson and his contemporaries. Beyond such allegiances, the stories featured here are quiet studies—often dealing with interpersonal relationships, ideas of the self and the group, and an individual’s experience within a group. The photographers’ subjects—all friends and family—become willing participants in the scenes and several of the photographers themselves appear within the frames. The interior itself emerges as an additional “character” in many of the plots, functioning more than just a stage or backdrop, addressing issues of home and class. The moments depicted are recreated, reinterpreted, or even re-remembered, and are sometimes even based on photographs. Most often, the contemporary group portrait occupies this fascinating state somewhere between fact and fiction.
The works in Group Portrait further recall earlier paintings and photographs—including conversation pieces and genre scenes as well as 19th-century composite photographs—yet approach and depict these scenes using 21 st century themes and methods. Following a process akin to painting, the photographers build up elements and characters as needed on a large-scale. Several of the compositions immediately evoke paintings in their setting, lighting, and size, and others create new, hybrid realities via digital technologies. As such, these tableaux hover somewhere between the pre-modern and the post-modern in their aesthetics and philosophy. By way of this narrative staging and restaging, the contemporary photographers in Group Portrait allow us to enter their worlds, and, as Jessica Todd Harper so eloquently puts it, assume “a new place within an old tradition.”
- Leslie K. Brown, PRC Curator