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Heads On Portrait Prize at Northart



Heads on Portrait Prize.                                                                                                                                                             

June 3 – 18. Northart Gallery.


Portraits attract people, we like to look at ourselves (even more than at cats). I have to admit myself being a sociopath of sorts, but even I am drawn to portraits.

Wondering what a formal definition is, I referred the Oxford English Dictionary a portrait, n. is:

  •  A drawing or painting of a person, often mounted and framed for display, esp. one of the face or head and shoulders; (also) an engraving, photograph, etc., in a similar style.
  • Something which represents, typifies, or resembles the object described or implied; a type; a likeness.

Additionally, a portrait should reveal a story of the subject; sharing joys and sorrows of the one photographed to the one looking is the essential.

In Heads on Portrait Prize at NorthArt, each photograph opens a whole new world to the viewer, a different personality, each of them being equally compelling and interesting. Each photograph would be enough to inspire one to write a book. Touching and stylistically perfect, they all exude fascination and blues, joy and tears (at times quite literally), at the same time.

The content is invaluable, although underscored by formal presentation to a certain degree. Photographs are mounted directly on the walls using office pins, perhaps, informed by it being a traveling exhibition. However, these stunning photographs deserve a presentation which would accentuate their excellence. Leaving the international exhibition, I expected large prints on a glossy photographic paper, framed, under glass, each having a caption which would satisfy my curiosity: of museum standard.

Casualness of virtually anything is one of the reasons I love New Zealand. However, the amateurish feel about this exhibition was upsetting. An occasional minor flaw in installation, a nail bent or a weird angle here and there did drag attention away from appreciating the gems and brought associations to a school wall newspaper. Perhaps sounding like hateful Adorno or that grumpy tutor I could not praise the works to the level they deserved.

Missing was narrative behind each portrait. Some commentary was beautiful in its simplicity, seeming to tell the story in full. Others, and in fact most, seemed to lack completeness. I perpetually found myself asking: “And what happened then? Tell me more!” Perhaps, a successful resolution would be to turn the exhibition into a publication, which had a story next to each photograph. Presentation aside, it seems that portraiture is a lot about the story behind it.

Narrative is an intrinsic and vital part of a portrait, which cannot be disregarded. One can re-create the story of a photograph, but is it enough to be satisfied with the fruits of ones own imagination knowing that reality always surpasses even the wildest fantasy?





Image Credit: Northart Gallery

This entry was posted in: Reviews

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