Fetish: Portrait

Group Show
Alan Oju
Andre Barion
Andy Villela
Anna Maria Maiolino
Bruno Alves
Emerson Freire
Fernanda Santos
Gustavo Magalhães
Lucas Almeida
Marlon Amaro
Melissa de Oliveira
Miguel Afa
Sandra Gamarra
03/18 - 04/08/23

In the exhibition, based on research in the gallery's collection and works of artists responding to the themes guiding our curation, we have a brief overview of how the portrait, one of the oldest subjects in the history of art, finds resonance in these artists with such distinct dialectics, yet they continue to think and deal with the theme of human representation and its contemporary developments in one way or another.

Text by Bob Wolfenson, one of Brazil's greatest photographers and responsible for iconic portraits in national history.

The photographic portrait is the result of an encounter and, as such, follows the nature of encounters. Let me explain: a photo set – be it in the studio, on location, or in the middle of the street – comes loaded with expectations and preconceptions.
However, it is in the interaction with the subject, who is in front of the photographer to be portrayed, that things unfold. Or not. And as in any encounter, the clash of personalities, desires, and, above all, chance, are determinants for the final result.

The idea that a photographer can capture the soul or the true essence of the human figure is, to me, a folly, but it populates the imagination of a large part of portrait critics and enthusiasts. I don’t think anyone has this power to delve into such depths, and, more than that, as a photographer, the last thing that comes to my mind is trying to translate someone’s essence or soul. I don’t have that pretension.
As the great American portraitist Richard Avedon once said in a happy metaphor, “if we scratch the surface of a portrait (like a scratch card), we will find another surface, and so on.”

Everyone who has been photographed knows that when there is a camera pointed at them, the subject tries to behave in a way that anticipates the final pose. Nothing against it; there is always a fictional aspect and construction in making a portrait, although the pursuit of truth often makes it seem like we are looking for something much greater than is possible to find.
The usual lament “I don’t recognize myself in this image” or, on the other hand, “I am exactly what is in this portrait” are two sides of the same coin – those who attribute to a photograph the power to reveal something admirable and/or hidden about someone. I consistently reject this idea, as the French philosopher Roland Barthes said, “a photograph is always invisible; it is never what we see.” Definitive interpretations of an image are generally ploys to justify it.

A work with several portraits by a single photographer says much more about the photographer than about the subjects. The portraitist directs poses and/or choreographies in a constant flow of movements, gestures, and silences until he feels he has exhausted the possibilities of a given situation, which, in the end, depends on a sense of cooperation and mutual trust between the subject and him.

In any case, achieving a good portrait is almost a miracle, given the dissonant aspects that hover like a force field over the moment of creating it, whether it be the subject’s expectation, the photographer’s desire, the technical apparatus (cameras, lights), and the requests of those who commissioned the work (when there are third parties involved) – all factors of intimidation for those in front of and behind the camera. However, it is in this arena full of intensity that the magic of the “miracle” occurs.

Bob Wolfenson