Posts Tagged ‘Sage Sohier


Exhibition: ‘(un)expected families’ at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Exhibition dates: 9th December 2017 – 17th June 2018


Christopher Churchill (American, born in 1977) 'Hutterite Classroom, Gildford, MT' 2005


Christopher Churchill (American, born in 1977)
Hutterite Classroom, Gildford, MT
Gelatin silver print
Gift of Elisa Fredrickson / Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Photograph: © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston



It’s hard to get a sense of this exhibition from the media images, therefore difficult to make any constructive comment on the strength of the exhibition.

Apparently, “The exhibition’s gallery feels very domestic. Groups of photos hang on the walls – different sizes, colors, formats and frames – like you’d see in a living room or hallway. MFA curator Karen Haas confirms that evocation is absolutely intentional.

“Photographers from the very beginning have been fascinated by the way that the camera could capture images of loved ones, freeze them in time,” she says. “They form sort of reliquaries of memory, and these sorts of relationships to the objects – that idea of the photograph as a talisman-like object I think has been somewhat forgotten in our contemporary world.” …

Haas’ goal in creating this show is to illustrate how broad and diverse family configurations can be – without defining them. “The families that we’re born into, generational families,” she describes, “but also romantic unions, couples and chosen families – families we have chosen for ourselves.” And that includes the military and the church, Haas says. “I think the family is such a basic social construct – so basic to so many of our lives – that I hope that these kinds of images will really resonate with people.” (Text from The ARTery website)

Outsider family, insider family, single parent family, nuclear family, extended family, reconstituted family, childless family, gay family, step family, “family has always taken diverse forms: affluent and destitute, cohesive and fractured, expected and unexpected. Taken together, the photographs challenge visitors to consider what family means to them.”

But what is most important is this: “There is no right or wrong answer when it comes to what is the best type of family structure. As long as a family is filled with love and support for one another, it tends to be successful and thrive. Families need to do what is best for each other and themselves, and that can be achieved in almost any unit.” (Types of Family Structure)

Families all have secrets, no matter how perfect they may seem to the outside world. Whether it be domestic violence behind closed doors or skeletons in the closet there is always more than meets the eye. And that’s where these photographs of families fail in their representation of the family. That, and the title of the exhibition – (un)expected families – because in the 21st century, nothing should be unexpected. By adding emphasis to the (un), the title merely propagates a form of discrimination, of outsider as different and therefore worthy of abuse because of that very difference. Expected families: we are all human beings and therefore anything is to be expected.


Many thankx to the Museum of Fine Arts Boston for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.


Bringing together more than 80 pictures taken by American photographers from the 19th century to today, (un)expected families explores the definition of the American family – from the families we are born into to the ones we have chosen for ourselves. The works on view depict a wide range of relationships, including multiple generations, romantic unions, and alternative family structures. Using archival, vernacular, and fine art photographs, (un)expected families offers a variety of perspectives on the American family, from Dorothea Lange’s depiction of a migrant family at the time of the Dust Bowl to Louie Palu’s portraits of US Marines fighting in Afghanistan. The exhibition illustrates that the family has always taken diverse forms: affluent and destitute, cohesive and fractured, expected and unexpected. Taken together, the photographs challenge visitors to consider what family means to them. (un)expected families features celebrated practitioners like Nan Goldin, Carrie Mae Weems, LaToya Ruby Frazier, and Harry Callahan, as well as a number of renowned Boston-area artists, such as David Hilliard, Nicholas Nixon, Abe Morell, and Sage Sohier.


Lewis W. Hine (American, 1874-1940) 'Home Workers, New York' 1915


Lewis W. Hine (American, 1874-1940)
Home Workers, New York
Lewis W. Hine/Museum of Fine Arts, Boston


Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'Migrant family, Texas' 1936


Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Migrant family, Texas
Gelatin silver print
Sophie M. Friedman Fun
Dorothea Lange/Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Photograph: © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston


Louis Faurer (American, 1916-2001) 'Ritz Bar, New York' 1947-48


Louis Faurer (American, 1916-2001)
Ritz Bar, New York
Estate of Louis Faurer/Museum of Fine Arts, Boston


Duane Michals (American, born in 1932) 'When he was young, he could not imagine being old. And now that he is old, he cannot imagine ever having been young' 1979


Duane Michals (American, born in 1932)
When he was young, he could not imagine being old. And now that he is old, he cannot imagine ever having been young
Gelatin silver print
Duane Michals, courtesy of the DC Moore Gallery, New York, and Osmos, New York


Nicholas Nixon (American, born in 1947) 'Yazoo City, Mississippi' 1979


Nicholas Nixon (American, born in 1947)
Yazoo City, Mississippi
Gelatin silver contact print
Museum purchase with funds donated by the National Endowment for the Arts and Richard L. Menschel, Bela T. Kalman, Judge and Mrs. Matthew Brown, Mildred S. Lee, and Barbara M. Marshall
© Nicholas Nixon, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco
Photograph: © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston


Nan Goldin (American, born in 1953) 'Jimmy Paulette and Tabboo! in the bathroom, New York' 1991


Nan Goldin (American, born in 1953)
Jimmy Paulette and Tabboo! in the bathroom, New York
Cibachrome print
Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Fund for Photography
© Nan Goldin
Photograph: © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston



“I used to think that I could never lose anyone if I photographed them enough. But in fact my pictures show me just how much I’ve lost.” ~ Nan Goldin


Tina Barney (American, born in 1945) 'Thanksgiving' 1992


Tina Barney (American, born in 1945)
Chromogenic print
Contemporary Curator’s Fund, including funds donated by Barbara and Thomas Lee
Tina Barney/Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
© Tina Barney
Photograph: © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston


Sage Sohier (American, born in 1954) 'Mum in her bathtub, Washington, D.C.' 2002


Sage Sohier (American, born in 1954)
Mum in her bathtub, Washington, D.C.
Inkjet print
Living New England Artists Purchase Fund, created by the Stephen and Sybil Stone Foundation
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston


Nicholas Nixon (American, born in 1947) 'Tammy Hindle' 2006


Nicholas Nixon (American, born in 1947)
Tammy Hindle
Digital inkjet print
Gift of James N. Krebs
© Nicholas Nixon, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco
Photograph: © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston


Julie Mack (American, born in 1982) 'Self-portrait (Julie) with family in SUV, Michigan' 2007


Julie Mack (American, born in 1982)
Self-portrait (Julie) with family in SUV, Michigan
Chromogenic print
James N. Krebs Purchase Fund for 21st Century Photography
© Julie Mack. Courtesy Laurence Miller Gallery, New York
Photograph: © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston


David Hilliard  (America, born 1964) 'Rock Bottom' 2008


David Hilliard  (America, born 1964)
Rock Bottom
Panorama Construction



Rock Bottom features, in the left panel, a close up sharp focus portrait of Hilliard’s father standing in a lake, with a severe and harsh facial expression, yet vulnerably placing his hands on his chest between his two sailor swallow’s tattoos. In the right panel, Hilliard himself appears somewhat further from the camera. With a gentler facial expression, the photographer contrasts with his tense patriarchal figure, but features a similar hairy chest and matching tattoos  –  giving the viewer a hint on the subject’s father-son relationship. The middle panel is exclusive for environmental portraiture and the creation of meaning in the composition: a sunny day at the lake, where the blue skies and soft clouds perfectly reflect on the water and separate the subject matters. The real meaning of the juxtaposition relies on the knowledge of Hilliard’s personal life and the presence of the middle panel: although the father accept his son’s homosexuality, the issue has clearly been a source of tension between them, creating both emotional and physical distance between the subject matters. Represented by the central panel, a stunning view divides the two generations both visually and metaphorically, symbolizing the idea of emotional distance in an atypical form.

Like most of Hilliard’s photographs, Rock Bottom exposes how physical distance is often manipulated to represent emotional distance. The presence of the middle panel, exclusively dedicated to environmental portraiture and the emphasis on the importance of our surroundings, also suggests the emotional distance between the subjects. The lack of elements and presence of great depth of field of the center panel insinuates that, regardless of the level of intimacy between the subject matters  – distance is always palpable.

Marina Pedrosa. “David Hilliard: Building Meaning Through Composition,” on the medium website [Online] Cited 22/08/2018


Julie Blackmon (American, born in 1966) 'Baby Toss' 2009


Julie Blackmon (American, born in 1966)
Baby Toss
Elizabeth and Michael Marcus
Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Photograph: © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston


LaToya Ruby Frazier (American, born in 1982) 'Mom' 2008


LaToya Ruby Frazier (American, born in 1982)
Gelatin silver print
From “The Notion of Family” (Aperture, 2014)
Photograph: © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston


Caleb Cole (American, born in 1981) 'The Big Sister' 2012


Caleb Cole (American, born in 1981)
The Big Sister
From the series Odd One Out (2010-Present)
Archival pigment print
49 × 68 cm (19 5/16 × 26 3/4 in.)
Museum purchase with funds donated by James N. Krebs



Bringing together more than 80 pictures taken by photographers from the 19th century to today, (un)expected families at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA), explores the definition of the American family – from the families we’re born into to the ones we’ve chosen. The photographs in the exhibition, on view from December 9, 2017 through June 17, 2018, depict a wide range of relationships – multiple generations, romantic unions and alternative family structures – whether connected by DNA, shared life experiences, common interests or even a social media network. Encompassing both carefully staged portraits and serendipitous snapshots, the selection of vernacular, documentary and fine art photographs in (un)expected families illustrates that the concept of family has long taken many forms – a subject that has fascinated photographers since the invention of the camera – and challenges visitors to consider what family means to them. Drawn primarily from the MFA’s holdings, the exhibition includes photographs by celebrated artists such as Nan Goldin, Gordon Parks, Nicholas Nixon, Sally Mann, Diane Arbus, Tina Barney, Emmet Gowin and Bruce Davidson. Loans from private collections include Victorian-era “hidden mother” photographs of children and turn-of-the-century portraits of women in intimate relationships sometimes referred to as “Boston marriages.” Additionally, (un)expected families highlights many New England photographers whose work centers on familial relationships, debuting eight photographs – acquired specifically for the exhibition – by Zoe Perry-Wood, Arno Rafael Minkkinen, Amber Tourlentes, Caleb Cole, Tanja Hollander, David Hilliard and Jeannie Simms. An interactive component of (un)expected families invites visitors to share thoughts about their own families on response cards. A selection will be displayed in the gallery on a rotating basis, and all will be archived as part of the permanent exhibition record. Additionally, a free family guide engages children with close looking and drawing activities. The exhibition is generously supported by an anonymous donor.

“Almost as soon as exposure times became short enough to make portraiture feasible, photographers have been drawn to capture likenesses of loved ones. Perhaps that power to freeze a moment in time is what explains why family photographs are so often described as the first thing one would save from a burning building,” said Karen Haas, Lane Curator of Photographs. “I find it particularly fascinating that there seems to be a growing interest among contemporary photographers to focus on families in their work – even as with the rise of smartphones and social media, our own personal pictures are increasingly relegated to the ether, rarely experienced as tangible objects.”

The images presented in (un)expected families span 150 years. Among the oldest pictures are photographs of “hidden mothers” (1860s-70s), depicting infants in the laps of concealed adults – a trick to keep the children still during long sittings or exposures. The mothers or nursemaids were draped with scarves or blankets, or hidden behind furniture or painted backdrops. Similarly, the contemporary photograph Nayla, Ted, Alexandra, Nick, March 30, 1995 (1995) by Cambridge-based Elsa Dorfman (born 1937) focuses solely on the children. While names of the parents are among those handwritten on the bottom of the large-scale Polaroid, only their legs are visible in the composition. Another contemporary photograph juxtaposed with the Victorian-era “hidden mothers,” which were made during a period of high infant mortality rates, is Tammy Hindle (2006) by Nicholas Nixon (born 1947). Part of Nixon’s series documenting a family’s heartbreaking loss of a child, the image shows the mother, Tammy, carrying a portrait of the baby, Claire, to the funeral service, their bodies appearing to magically merge in the reflection within the picture frame.

Father-and-son relationships are explored in images by Dawoud Bey (born 1953), Duane Michals (born 1932) and Jim Goldberg (born 1953), all of which incorporate texts that amplify the moving and often painful stories behind the images, as well as recently acquired photographs by David Hilliard (born 1964) and Arno Rafael Minkkinen (born 1945). Hilliard’s triptych Rock Bottom (2008) is one of an extended series of panoramic photographs that trace the shifting narrative of the gay artist’s complicated relationship with his father. The beautifully choreographed self-portrait visually links the two men, unmistakably related to each other and sporting identical swallow tattoos, across a serene expanse of lake. Minkkinen’s 31-12-86, Self-Portrait with Daniel, Andover (1986), recently gifted to the MFA by the artist, is one of a little-known series of portraits that he took of his son Daniel as the boy grew and matured from infancy to adolescence. The photograph shows Daniel sitting on a bed, bathed in raking light and looking directly at his father’s large-format camera. With his head hidden from view, Minkkinen’s outstretched arms perfectly echo the curve of the headboard and create a haunting embrace that speaks to a parent’s deep-seated desire to encircle and protect a child.

Seventeen photographs representing multiple generations of a family are arranged in a salon-style hang, ranging from intimate depictions of parents with children, such as Baby Toss (2009) by Julie Blackmon (born 1966); to pairs of siblings, such as Twins at WDIA, Memphis (about 1948) by Ernest C. Withers (1922–2007); to a 1925 panorama capturing an extended family reunion encompassing about 200 people. The display also features recently acquired photographs by Sage Sohier (born 1954) and Jeannie Simms (born 1967). Sohier’s Mum in her bathtub, D.C. (2002) is from an extended series devoted to her mother, a former fashion model who had posed for Richard Avedon and Irving Penn in the 1940s. Simms’ Arnie, Susan & Elijah, Jamaica Plain, MA (2015) is from a series documenting the lives of couples married in Cambridge after Massachusetts became the first U.S. state to issue same-sex marriage licenses on May 17, 2004.

Recently acquired works by Amber Tourlentes (born 1970), Zoe Perry-Wood (born 1959) and Jess Dugan (born 1986) also document the experience of LGBTQ couples, families and individuals. Tourlentes has regularly made LGBTQ family portraits on the Town Hall stage in Provincetown, Massachusetts, during its annual Family Week, sometimes revisiting the same subjects over the course of several years. Perry-Wood has spent the last decade photographing another annual event, the Boston Alliance of Gay and Lesbian Youth (BAGLY) Prom, which offers a safe and celebratory occasion for young couples – an alternative to more traditional high-school proms. Allowing her subjects to pose in front of the camera in a studio-like setting, as seen in José and Luis (2015), Perry-Wood helps to give them a sense of personal agency and collective pride at a pivotal moment in their lives. Unlike Tourlentes and Perry-Wood, Dugan photographs her subjects – friends within the LGBTQ community – in natural light and the privacy of their own living spaces, exploring issues of gender, identity and social connection through large-format portraits such as Devotion, from the series Every Breath We Drew (2012).

With the invention of the small and affordable Kodak camera in the late 19th century, followed by the instant camera in the 1940s, many Americans no longer felt the need to visit formal portrait studios in order to record their personal lives. Among the casual snapshots featured in (un)expected families are Polaroids of Caroline Kennedy and her cousin Tina Radziwill, taken by Andy Warhol (1928-1987) in the summer of 1972 and exhibited at the MFA for the first time. The artist – along with filmmaker Jonas Mekas and photographer Peter Beard – was hired by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis to teach the children filmmaking and photography. Also on view are an album of photographs commemorating a fraternity at Baker University in Kansas (1910s) and six snapshots depicting “Boston marriages” (1920s-30s) – a turn-of-the-century term used to describe two women living together without the support of a man – romantic relationships in some cases and simply platonic partnerships in others.

Several groupings in the exhibition are centered on places of family life. Working roughly 50 years apart, one on New York’s Lower East Side and the other in Harlem, Lewis Hine (1874-1940) and Bruce Davidson (born 1933) both found the kitchen table an ideal site for their documentary photographs of tenement families in New York City. The groundbreaking Kitchen Table series (1990) by Carrie Mae Weems (born 1953) – featuring the photographer herself as the central figure, alongside lovers, children and friends – speaks to all those who have loved, quarrelled and come together around a communal table. Similarly, Tina Barney (born 1945) often acts as both guide and participant in her photographs – including Thanksgiving (1992) – which portray complex family moments in the wealthy East Coast social scene that she grew up in. In another selection of photographs by Julie Mack (born 1982), Mary Ellen Mark (1940-2015) and Dorothea Lange (1895-1965), the car is shown as a setting for a contemporary family self-portrait, a shelter for a homeless family in Los Angeles, and a vehicle for escape for migrant farm workers and their families during the Dust Bowl.

Alongside biologically related families and romantic unions, the exhibition highlights bonds among close-knit communities – “chosen families” – often documented by photographers embedded within the groups. Louie Palu (born 1968) spent several years covering the conflict in Afghanistan, producing portraits of U.S. Marines that capture the terrible toll of war etched on their faces and reflected in their eyes. Danny Lyon (born 1942) was a student at the University of Chicago when he first befriended members of the Chicago Outlaws, a notorious motorcycle club. For a number of years, he documented the individual gang members, their families and friends, as well as races, meetings, social gatherings, rides throughout the Midwest and even their funerals. Nan Goldin (born 1953) uses her camera as a form of diary to record the lives of friends, whom she considers a surrogate family. In Jimmy Paulette and Tabboo! in the bathroom, NYC (1991), Goldin represents two drag queens in New York City’s East Village, working in her characteristically direct, snapshot-like style. For the artist, who has lost many in her circle to HIV-AIDS, such images form tangible records of powerful human connections in fragile times.

Ethel Shariff in Chicago (1963) by Gordon Parks (1912–2006) and Hutterite Classroom, Gilford, MT (2005) by Christopher Churchill (born 1977) are among the photographs depicting religious communities. Ethel Shariff, the eldest daughter of longtime Nation of Islam head Elijah Mohammed, stands at the apex of Parks’ group portrait, surrounded by fellow members of the organization’s women’s corps. Churchill’s photograph is from a series of pictures on the theme of American faith – a project he undertook in the years just after 9/11. Traveling across the country, he visited various sacred landscapes, places of worship and religious communities including the Hutterites, a branch of the Anabaptists who trace their beginnings back to the Protestant Reformation. For Churchill, the series became an exploration into the very basic human need to be connected to something greater than ourselves. Similarly, Tanja Hollander (born 1972) traveled all over the world – across the U.S. and Europe, but also as far away as Kuala Lumpur and New Zealand – for five years, tracking down all of her hundreds of Facebook friends and making portraits of them set in their own homes. Shot with an iPhone or a simple point-and-shoot camera, these intimate pictures – two of which were acquired for the exhibition – present a fascinating commentary on the role of social media and interpersonal relationships in the 21st century.

Additional highlights of (un)expected families include photographs in a variety of formats. Caleb Cole (born 1981) is a local photographer particularly fascinated by the dynamics of family photographs found at estate sales and flea markets in which one of the subjects – in contrast to the rest of the smiling faces – appears especially sad or downcast. Cole digitally alters these vernacular images to isolate the single, lonely figure, all the while maintaining the shapes of the remaining sitters so that the “odd one out” is set off against the blank, white expanse of the group. In The Big Sister (2012), a recent acquisition, a young girl whose parents have just introduced her to a new baby looks dejectedly off into space as if desperately wishing she could return to her former status as an only child. Digital projections from the series To Majority Minority (2014-15) by Annu Palakunnathu Matthew (born 1964) are also based on found snapshots, sourced from photo albums of immigrant families that have come to the U.S. from all over the world. Working with the owners of these albums, Matthew digitises the images and then recreates the figures and their poses using contemporary family members in place of the original sitters. By presenting them as projections that seamlessly flow from one generation into another, the artist measures the passage of time through the faces of subsequent generations, and the accompanying texts tell stories inspired by the treasured photographs of their ancestors.

Press release from Museum of Fine Arts, Boston


Photographer unknown (American) 'Untitled [Hidden Mother]' c. 1860s-70s


Photographer unknown (American)
Untitled [Hidden Mother]
c. 1860s-70s
Hand-coloured tintype
Collection of Lee Marks and John C. DePrez, Jr., Shelbyville, Indiana
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Photograph: © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston


Elaine Mayes (American, born in 1936) 'Group Portrait, Haight-Ashbury, San Francisco' c. 1970


Elaine Mayes (American, born in 1936)
Group Portrait, Haight-Ashbury, San Francisco
c. 1970
Elaine Mayes/Museum of Fine Arts, Boston


Ernest C. Withers (American, 1922–2007) 'Twins at WDIA, Memphis' about 1948


Ernest C. Withers (American, 1922–2007)
Twins at WDIA, Memphis
about 1948
Gelatin silver print
Sophie M. Friedman Fund / Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Photograph: © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston


Consuelo Kanaga (American, 1894-1978) 'She is a Tree of Life to Them' 1950


Consuelo Kanaga (American, 1894-1978)
She is a Tree of Life to Them
Gelatin silver print
Lucy Dalbiac Luard Fund
Consuelo Kanaga/Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Photograph: © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston


Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Ethel Shariff in Chicago' 1963


Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Ethel Shariff in Chicago
Gelatin silver print
Gift of Gus and Arlette Kayafas in honor of Karen E. Haas / Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Photograph: © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston


Roswell Angier (American, born in 1940) 'Mr. and Mrs. Steve Mills, Pilgrim Theatre, Boston' 1973


Roswell Angier (American, born in 1940)
Mr. and Mrs. Steve Mills, Pilgrim Theatre, Boston
Gelatin silver print
Polaroid Foundation Purchase Fund, reproduced with permission / Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Photograph: © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston


Jock Sturges (American, born in 1947) 'Misty Dawn and Alisa, Northern California' 1989


Jock Sturges (American, born in 1947)
Misty Dawn and Alisa, Northern California
Gelatin silver print
Gift of Elizabeth Lea
© Jock Sturges
Photograph: © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston


Milton Rogovin (American, 1909–2011) 'Felix and his Wife, Buffalo' 1992


Milton Rogovin (American, 1909–2011)
Felix and his Wife, Buffalo
From the series Lower West Side Revisited
Gelatin silver print
Gift of Denise Jarvinen and Pierre Cremieux
© Milton Rogovin, Copyright 1952-2002 / Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Photograph: © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston


Louie Palu (Canadian, born in 1968) 'U.S. Marine Gysgt. Carlos "OJ" Orjuela, age 31. Garmsir, Helmand, Afghanistan' 2008


Louie Palu (Canadian, born in 1968)
U.S. Marine Gysgt. Carlos “OJ” Orjuela, age 31. Garmsir, Helmand, Afghanistan
Inkjet print
Museum purchase with funds donated in honour of Linda and Alex Beavers
Louie Palu/Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Photograph: © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston



And then there’s Louie Palu’s black and white portraits of Marines. These are some of the few single-person portraits among images of families or groups. Paired with a group photo, there is an initial sense of loneliness. But isolate the image and it’s a different story.

“In the military, you arrive alone and leave the military alone but live on a battlefield as part of a close group of people who will do everything to support you and are willing to risk their life to save yours,” he said. “When you are a soldier, your comrades can define a life-changing experience not a single member of your biological family will ever understand. When you come home, your mother, father, wife, brothers, sisters and children can never connect to that experience like your comrades can. When you are in a group, you are strong, and when you are alone, you are not.” (Text from the New York Times website)


Andy Warhol (American, 1928-1987) 'Red Book: Tina Radziwill and Caroline Kennedy, Montauk' 1972


Andy Warhol (American, 1928-1987)
Red Book: Tina Radziwill and Caroline Kennedy, Montauk
Polaroid photograph
Sheet: 10.8 x 8.6 cm (4 1/4 x 3 3/8 in.)
Gift of The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts
© The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, NY


Elsa Dorfman (American, born in 1937) 'Nayla, Ted, Alexandra, Nick, March 30, 1995' 1995


Elsa Dorfman (American, born in 1937)
Nayla, Ted, Alexandra, Nick, March 30, 1995
Polaroid polacolor
Gift of Elsa Dorfman in memory of Dorothy Glaser
© Elsa Dorfman, 2013, all rights reserved / Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Photograph: © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston


Dawoud Bey (American, born in 1953) 'Kevin' 2005


Dawoud Bey (American, born in 1953)
From the series Class Pictures
Chromogenic print
Museum purchase with funds donated by the Friends of Photography and The Heritage Fund for a Diverse Collection
© Dawoud Bey
Photograph: © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston



Dawoud Bey (1953-) is a photographer known for his colour portraits of various subjects, perhaps most notably teenagers. This 2005 photograph is of a teen named Kevin and is from Bey’s series Class Pictures, which is a study of high school students across the country


Jess T. Dugan. 'Devotion' 2012


Jess T. Dugan
From the series Every Breath We Drew
Jess T. Dugan/Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
© Jess T. Dugan


Tanja Hollander (American, born in 1972) 'Brittany Marcoux and Brian McGuire, Swansea, Massachusetts' 2012


Tanja Hollander (American, born in 1972)
Brittany Marcoux and Brian McGuire, Swansea, Massachusetts
Inkjet print
Museum purchase with funds donated by James N. Krebs
Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
© Tanja Hollander



Annu Palakunnathu Matthew
To Majority Minority – Thuan



The word immigrant conjures up families passing through Ellis Island or young men climbing across the southwest border fence. The United States of America of yesterday, filled with immigrants of European descent is giving way to a new multi-coloured and multicultural America. By 2050 “minority” populations in the U.S. will become the majority of the population. In this new multi-coloured America, we need to reframe our understanding of our newest immigrants in terms of their cultures, religions and stories.

In this project, I explore the generational transition from immigrant to native within families, starting with portrait photographs from these immigrant’s albums. These old photographs reflect where they have come from, revealing family histories and shared stories of immigration. The final portrait animation helps us empathise with these new Americans beyond the stereotype of the family at Ellis Island or the presumed terrorist.



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Text: ‘Facile, Facies, Facticity’ by Dr Marcus Bunyan; Exhibition: ‘About Face: Contemporary Portraiture’ at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City

Exhibition dates: 9th August 2013 – 19th January 2014


Rachel Herman, American 'Hannah and Tim' 2007


Rachel Herman (American)
Hannah and Tim
Inkjet print (printed 2012)
Gift of the Hall Family Foundation



Facile, Facies, Facticity


“The structure of presentation – point-of-view and frame – is intimately implicated in the reproduction of ideology (the ‘frame of mind’ of our ‘points-of-view’). More than any other textual system, the photograph presents itself as ‘an offer you can’t refuse’.”

Victor Burgin 1


Facies simultaneously signifies the singular air of a face, the particularity of its aspect, as well as the genre or species under which this aspect should be subsumed. The facies would thus be a face fixed to a synthetic combination of the universal and the singular: the visage fixed to the regime of representation, in a Helgian sense.

Why the face? – Because in the face the corporeal surface makes visible something of the movements of the soul, ideally. This also holds for the Cartesian science of the expression of the passions, and perhaps also explains why, from the outset, psychiatric photography took the form of an art of the portrait.”

Georges Didi-Huberman 2


How shallow contemporary portrait photography has become when compared to the sensual portraits of Julia Margaret Cameron, the grittiness of Gordon Parks or the in your face style of Diane Arbus. I think the word facile (from Latin facilis ‘easy’, from facers ‘do, make’) with its link to the etymologically similar word ‘face’ (Old Latin facies) is a good way to describe most of the photographs in this posting. These simplistic, nihilistic portraits, with their contextless backgrounds and head on frontally (also the name of an insipid Australian portrait photography prize), are all too common in contemporary portraiture. People with dead pan expressions stare at the camera, stare off camera. The photographs offer little insight and small engagement for the viewer. If these photographs are representative of the current ‘frame of mind’ of our ‘points-of-view’ vis a vis the construction of identity then the human race is in deep shit indeed. As we accept an offer that we can’t refuse – the reflexivity of selfies, an idealised or passive image of ourselves reflected back through the camera lens º we uncritically accept the mirror image, substituting passive receptivity for active (critical) reading. We no longer define and engage critically with something we might call ‘photographic discourse’:

“A discourse can be defined as an arena of information exchange, that is, as a system of relations between parties engaged in communicative activity. In a very important sense the notion of discourse is a notion of limits. That is, the overall discourse relation could be regarded as a limiting function, one that establishes a bounded arena of shared expectations as to meaning. It is this limiting function that determines the very possibility of meaning. To raise the issue of limits, of the closure affected from within any given discourse situation, is to situate oneself outside, in a fundamentally metacritical relation, to the criticism sanctioned by the logic of the discourse…

A discourse, then, can be defined in rather formal terms as the set of relations governing the rhetoric of related utterances. The discourse is, in the most general sense, the context of the utterance, the conditions that constrain and support its meaning, that determine its semantic target.”3


These photographs have few conditions that support their meaning. The context of their utterances is constrained by their own efficacy and passivity. Paul Virilio, speaking of contemporary images, describes them as ‘viral’. He suggests that they communicate by contamination, by infection. In our ‘media’ or ‘information’ society we now have a ‘pure seeing’; a seeing without knowing.4 A seeing without knowing… quite appropriate for these faceless images, images that contaminate how we observe humans living in the world. Of course, one can be involved in logical criticism of the discourse from within but that still gives the discourse power. By situating yourself outside the conditions that constrain the discourse, you can criticise from a different perspective, “seeing something new” as an active, temporal protension of seeing. “Such is the fundamental instability of the pleasure of seeing, of Schaulust, between memory and threat.”5 We may glance, instead of staring (as the subject of these portraits blankly stare back) – the glance becoming a blow of the eye, the acting-out of seeing.6

Here is a possible way forward for contemporary photographic portraiture: a description of the states of the body and the air of the face through a subtle and constant art of the recovering of surfaces, an inquiry that always seeks depth – conceptual depth – in the filmy fabric or stratum of the cameras imaging of the constructed subject. In other words an inquiry into the source, the etiology and logic of the subjects own being – through the glance, not the passive gaze. Even as the object of knowledge is photographically detained for observation, fixed to objectivity, that knowledge can slip away from itself into what Georges Didi-Huberman calls the paradox of photographic resemblance.7

“Thus photography is ultimately an uncertain technique (see Barthes. Camera Lucida. p. 18), changeable and ill-famed, too. Photography stages bodies: changeability. And at one moment or another, subtly, it belies them (invents them), submitting them instead to figurative extortion. As figuration, photography always poses the enigma of the “recumbence of the intelligible body,” even as it lends itself to some understanding of this enigma, and even as this understanding is suffocated…

And when one comes to pose oneself, before a photograph, paradoxical questions: whom does this photographed face resemble? Exactly whose face is being photographed? In the end, doesn’t a photograph resemble just anyone? Well, one cannot, for all that, simply push resemblance aside like a poorly posed problem. Rather, one points a finger at Resembling as an unstable, vain, and phantasmatic temporal motion. One interrogates the drama of imaginary evidence.

For “to resemble,” or Resembling, is the name for a major concern about time in the visible. This is precisely what exposes all photographic evidence to anxiety, and beyond it, to staging, compromises, twisted meanings, and simulacra. And this is how photography circumvents itself – in its own sacrilege. It blasphemes it own evidence because evidence is diabolical. It ruins evidence, from a theater.”8


Only through slippage may we stumble upon the uncertainty of the soul in the uncertainty of the photographic technique. Only through the facticity of the face, the “thrownness” – Heidegger’s Geworfen, which denotes the arbitrary or inscrutable nature of Dasein, being there or presence, that connects the past with the present, just as photographs do – of the individual rendered in the lines of the human face can we engage with the intractable conditions of human existence. Not a bland resemblance-filled anxiety (the hair covering the face, the face in suburban ephemera, the compressed face pressed up against the condensation-filled window), but an unstable signification that has been passionately re(as)sembled in the anxiety of photographic evidence. Only then can contemporary portrait photography make visible something of the movements of the soul, ideally.

“Into this world we’re thrown /
Like a dog without a bone”
(Jim Morrison, Riders on the Storm, 1971)


Dr Marcus Bunyan



  1. Burgin, Victor (ed.,). Thinking Photography. Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1982, p. 146
  2. Didi-Huberman, Georges. Invention of Hysteria: Charcot and the Photographic Iconography of the Salpetriere (trans. Alisa Hartz). Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2003, p. 49
  3. Burgin, pp. 84-85
  4. Virilio, Paul. “The Work of Art in the Electronic Age,” in Block No. 14, Autumn, 1988, pp. 4-7 quoted in McGrath, Roberta. “Medical Police,” in Ten.8 No. 14, 1984 quoted in Watney, Simon and Gupta, Sunil. “The Rhetoric of AIDS,” in Boffin, Tessa and Gupta, Sunil (eds.,). Ecstatic Antibodies: Resisting the AIDS Mythology. London: Rivers Osram Press, 1990, p. 143
  5. Didi-Huberman, op. cit., pp. 27-28
  6. Ibid., “Coup d’oeil, signifying “glance,” literally means the “blow of an eye.” Here as elsewhere, Didi-Huberman draws on the notion of the glance as a blow. He also works with the various meanings of trait, including trait, line, draught, and shaft of an arrow” – Translator
  7. Didi-Huberman, op. cit., p. 59
  8. Didi-Huberman, op. cit., p. 65

Many thankx to The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.



Anna Shteynshleyger, Russian (b. 1977) 'City of Destiny (Covered)' 2007


Anna Shteynshleyger, (Russian, b. 1977)
City of Destiny (Covered)
Inkjet print
Gift of the Hall Family Foundation


Lise Sarfati, French (b. 1958) 'Emily, 2860 Sunset Blvd.' 2012


Lise Sarfati (French, b. 1958)
Emily, 2860 Sunset Blvd.
Chromogenic print
Gift of the Hall Family Foundation




Alec Soth (American, b. 1969)
Mother and daughter, St. Paul, Minnesota, 1999


LaToya Ruby Frazier, American (b. 1982) 'Momme' 2008


LaToya Ruby Frazier (American, b. 1982)
Gelatin silver print
Gift of the Hall Family Foundation



This exhibition will explore the breadth and global diversity of contemporary photographic portraiture since 2000, highlighting recent acquisitions to the museum’s permanent collection.

About Face will include works by twenty-nine artists from the United States, England, Canada, France, Germany, Russia, Japan, Iran and South Africa. Though each of these photographers approaches portrait-making differently, certain thematic threads resonate throughout the show, including questions of racial, cultural, ethnic, class and gender identity; the relationship between individuals and typologies; the way photographic processes themselves inform meaning; the relevance of historical precedents to contemporary practice; and the impact of media stereotypes on self-presentation. Considered collectively, the works in About Face offer a provocative and engaging forum for considering the question: how do we define portraiture today?

The project will present two distinct, simultaneous exhibitions: About Face, our in-gallery exhibition at the Nelson-Atkins, and Making Pictures of People, a digital exhibition presented online for web-based audiences worldwide. Visitors will be able to access the Flak Photo exhibition via touch screens in the gallery and on mobile devices outside the museum. The goal of our collaboration is twofold: to celebrate the complementary experiences of engaging with photographs as objects and as images, and to connect museum visitors in Kansas City with an international community deeply engaged in thinking about portraiture and contemporary photographic practice.

“Contemporary photographers approach portraiture from multiple perspectives, and this show reflects that diversity,” said April M. Watson, who co-curated this exhibition with Jane L. Aspinwall (both are Associate Curators of Photography). “Some portraits emphasise the construction of identity through race, gender and class, while others question the relationship between individuality and typology, or the impact of the media on self-presentation. At the core is the relationship between the photographer and his or her subject, and how that interaction translates in the final portrait.” Adds Aspinwall: “Some of these photographers use antiquated processes such as the daguerreotype and tintype to make portraits of contemporary subjects. These historical resonances add an interesting dimension to the show.

Press release from the  Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art website


Richard Learoyd, English (b. 1966) 'Erika' 2007


Richard Learoyd (English, b. 1966)
Ilfachrome print
Gift of the Hall Family Foundation in honour of the 75th anniversary of The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art


Jocelyn Lee, American (b. Italy, 1962) 'Untitled (Julia and Greenery)' 2005


Jocelyn Lee (American, b. Italy 1962)
Untitled (Julia and Greenery)
Chromogenic print
Gift of the Hall Family Foundation


Jim Goldberg, American (b.1953) 'Prized Possession, Democratic Republic of Congo' 2008


Jim Goldberg (American, b.1953)
Prized Possession, Democratic Republic of Congo
Gelatin silver print
Gift of the Hall Family Foundation




Vanessa Winship (British, b. 1960)
Hakkari 8
Inkjet print (printed 2008)
Gift of the Hall Family Foundation


Pieter Hugo, South African (b. 1976) 'Annebelle Schreuders (1)' 2012


Pieter Hugo (South African, b. 1976)
Annebelle Schreuders (1)
Inkjet print
Gift of the Hall Family Foundation


Sage Sohier, American (b. 1954) '12-Year Old Boy with His Father' 2009


Sage Sohier (American, b. 1954)
12-Year Old Boy with His Father
Inkjet print
Gift of the Hall Family Foundation


Michael Wolf, American (b. 1954) 'Tokyo Compression #18' 2010


Michael Wolf (American, b. 1954)
Tokyo Compression #18
Inkjet print
Gift of the Hall Family Foundation


Tomoko Sawada, Japanese (b. 1977) 'Recruit/BLACK' 2006


Tomoko Sawada (Japanese, b. 1977)
Chromogenic print
Purchase: acquired through the generosity of the Photography Society



The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
4525 Oak Street
Kansas City, MO 64111

Opening hours:
Wednesday 10am – 5pm
Thursday – Friday 10am – 9pm
Saturday 10am – 5pm
Sunday 10am – 5pm

The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art website


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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, a photographic archive and form of cultural memory, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Orphans and small groups’ 1994-96 Part 2

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