Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Portraits and Persons by Prof' Cynthia Freeland

Freeland is a Professor of Philosophy at the University of Houston, Texas and her book "Portraits and Persons" is published by OUP in 2010.

I was troubled by this book from the outset. Chapter One - "Animals".
Can there be portraits of animals? 1 was the first sentence; the chapter goes on to describe that a portrait is not a one dimensional piece of art, but can, and surely does at least with humans as a subject, bring self awareness and self presentation and other metaphysical qualities to the cooperative venture that is portraiture. Freeman concludes with a qualified yes, animals can have portraits, they .."meet my first two criteria for portraits, representing a recognizable living object in an image that also expresses consciousness and inner states."2 Freeland goes on to say that "...I am sceptical about the chance that animals can fulfill the third criterion required for portraits in the fullest sense, which can be met by adult humans, the factor of posing or of self-presentation."3 In my view that means that pictures of animals are one dimensional likenesses, and if one of these animal sitters looks remotely in the right direction for goodness sake take the picture.

Chloe feeling rested, and apparently wondering about the next meal or sleep.

Chapter two - Contact, discusses the moment when she and her mother search through photographs of her grandmother to determine which one has her "air" as Roland Barthes describes it in his book Camera Lucida, whilst searching for a picture of his mother. The fundamental issue I have with this is that whilst Barthes discusses the one picture that for "him" is the one which captures her, the one that defines for him the "essence" of his mother, he doesn't share it knowing that it is his picture, it is the recognition by him of her, from all that he knows of her. A deeply personal and almost reverential iconic representation of his mother. Whereas Freeman proposes that anyone could possibly recognise the essence or air of her grandmother in her found photograph. This premise that a sitter can display their innermost personality in a photographers studio is I think fanciful.

Despite my reservations on the underlying philosophical proposition of the book I ploughed on through it because it dealt at the end with some post modernists photographers, Sherman, Goldin and Morimura whom my tutor had recommended to me after seeing my self portrait work earlier. I have to say that I needn't have taken it all in, there was little to add to my research elsewhere, other than to say that his more recent work with respect to political reconstructions have a more cutting edge.

I was though interested in her view of Lucien Freud's nudes, about which she quotes Freud as saying "...I used to leave the face until last. I wanted the expression to be in the body. So I had to play down expression in the nudes" 4,5 This seems to go against all the text in her book that treats the face/portrait as the means by which the sitter delivers the "air". Freud attempting to express the essence of his model through their bodies, their limbs as he tried to equate their heads to.

At about 300 pages it is a long read.

1 - p4
2 - p40/41
3 - p41
5 - p201
6 - Lucien Freud quoted in Judith James, 'David Hockney: A Lifetime in Portraits', 15th March 2007, The Independent, downloaded PDF file from the website, p1

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