museum

‘Museum’ is a series of candid portraits of people concentrating on exhibits in museum collections. The work documents this aspect of contemporary social life. The photographs were made in 5 major museums in London and New York. There are 14 photographs in the series.

‘Museum’ follows a long tradition of candid portraiture in public places and was particularly influenced by Walker Evans’ portraits made on the New York subway in the late 1930s, Harry Callahan’s photographs of ‘Women Lost in Thought’ from the 1950s and the more contemporary series ‘Streetwork’ and ‘Heads’ by Philip-Lorca diCorcia. Evans said that the subway portraits were “[his] idea of what a portrait ought to be: anonymous and documentary and a straightforward picture of mankind.” (Evans, 1938). This has been a guiding principle for my work.

The subjects in ‘Museum’ are unaware of me, the photographer. Their guard is down and they reveal themselves to the viewer without self-conscious posing. They are absorbed in the exhibits.

The photographs are in black and white. Many are grainy and some were shot through glass or gaps in the exhibits. This reinforces the feeling that the viewer’s gaze is voyeuristic.

The work is presented as an archival box of photographs hinge-mounted on conservation board as in a museum’s photography collection. The photographs are indexed. This references the way that the artifacts in a museum are catalogued, but turns it on its head with the museums and their visitors becoming the catalogued items.

‘Museum’ is part of my wider investigation into strategies portrait photographers use for ‘disarming the pose’ of their subjects.

Keith Greenough, April 2013

 

Evans, W. (1938) Subway Passengers 1938. [online]. Metropolitan Museum of Art New York Website. Available from: http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/1971.646.18  Accessed on: 26th April 2013]

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