One might imagine that the portrait photographs in "Making Faces," an exhibition selected from Anderson Gallery's permanent collection, were produced with a similar lack of self-consciousness. The subjects who appear in these photographs seem to surface because the photographers had access to a sense rather than to technical experience. Often there exists a casual attitude toward composition and/or situation. Garry Winogrand's street scenes epitomize the snapshot look common to many of these images. There is also a relationship between camera and subject matter that appears direct and, in many cases, quite intimate, thereby eliminating the affectations of formal poses.
Not that these images aren't technically masterful. Some, in fact, like Bruce Davidson's untitled image of two women riding side by side on a New York City subway, one captured in direct light and the other in dark shadow, or Edward Boubat's French women articulated in lush, velvety tone, will strike even those unacquainted with photographic technique. But "Making Faces" drives home more than anything how art can find the difference between looking and seeing. Every day we look at people. Here at the Anderson Gallery, someone with a camera is letting us see.
Like "Family of Man," the coffee-table book of photographs that celebrated cultures around the world decades before video and the Internet put them all at our fingertips, "Making Faces" emphasizes cultural diversity as much as commonality. If the viewer is not struck by the range of emotional content in "Making Faces," maybe the political, social or geographical facet of the show will have this effect. Curator Amy Moorefield gathered together a mix of 12 artists who cover distinct cultural and physical territories, including postwar France, Mexico before and during World War II, Texas prisons during the '60s, and recent fringe activity in and around New York City. With this mix, Moorefield proves that the desire to connect with other humans knows no borders, but that opportunity, economics and individual expression certainly do.
"Making Faces" appeals on several levels, the most basic being the opportunity it provides for unfettered voyeurism. Unlike the moment at a red light when we want to study someone in the car next to us but don't because we're afraid we'll get caught, we can scan and absorb these people (and the dog in Elliot Erwitt's "Irish Wolfhound with Stick") to our heart's pleasure, if not complete satisfaction.
Not all truths are revealed, and for that reason we revisit the faces, poses, costumes and environments over and over again for more clues. The lost subjects in Larry Clark's stark "Tulsa Portfolio," for example, seem to stare into mental hollows. These folks are beyond our reach. But Alen MacWeeney's female subject in "Little Tinker Child, Ireland" could be a child living next door. Stranger or friend, each possesses a beauty unveiled by honest portrayal. There seems to be no posturing in "Making Faces" as its title may suggest, only a consistent appreciation for truth telling. S
"Making Faces: Portraiture in Photography" will be on display at VCU's Anderson Gallery, 907 1/2 W. Franklin St., through Aug. 10. Call 828-1522 for information.