New technologies are offering a whole spectrum of new opportunities to alter, adapt and reinvent the photographic portrait. From FaceTuning your selfie to Deepfakes of Donald Trump, the relationship between what we see and what we believe is increasingly being called into question. Artists are embracing new technologies—and rethinking old ones—to question the truth behind the image.
Broomberg & Chanarin employed a facial recognition system developed in Moscow for ‘public security and border control surveillance’ to take portraits of unsuspecting Russian citizens—including a member of Pussy Riot—to explore how machines make and see images, in turn raising complicated questions about consent in photography. In a new commission for PHOTO 2021, Hoda Afshar has created a new suite of portraits of people that have blown the whistle, using 3D-scanning technology. She has photographed the 3D prints, creating a haunting image that is reminiscent of Greek statues and tragedies. Finnish artist Maija Tammi steps away from the human subject altogether, with portraits of androids and (maybe) one human.
Responding to complex questions around photography, representation and agency, British artist Patrick Waterhouse has made portraits with the Warlpiri of Central Australia, where the subjects have painted over photographs as an act of personal advocacy and reclamation. Zanele Muholi makes portraits that are constant reminders about how political the human body—and the visibility of black lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people—continues to be. Jody Haines brings a feminist perspective to portraiture, and Atong Atem adds layers of fantasy and illusion to her photographs of diaspora communities in Melbourne. See also Sara Oscar’s homage to the police mugshot and Shea Kirk’s stunning stereoscopic portraits of Melburnians. These artists and more provide an insight into how portraiture is not as simple as we once might have thought, and how the rupture between image and reality is ever increasing.
—Elias Redstone, Artistic Director, PHOTO 2021