Who am I? The portrait

“Every portrait lies at the intersection of a dream and of a reality” – Georges Perec, Life, A User’s Manual (1978)

Whether it’s a photo ID, a family portrait or a self-portrait, each raises a question of identity and of a way of seeing the world. Through the interplay of staging and fiction, the portrait raises a number of ambiguities that open up onto a misreading, onto a multiplicity of interpretations.

Far from seeking to reveal a psychological interiority of the subject, the artist places the individual in a recognizable, interior or architectural environment, reflecting and revealing a highly charged social context. This social position, well established in our cultural representations, also comes across in the stance of the photographed subject, in his/her attitude before the lens, and in the relationship which is created between the subject and the photographer. It is thus a certain form of alienation that is being denounced.

In contemporary society where the new bodily ideal demands slimness, youth, and fitness, artists challenge accepted practices and values. They denounce the standardization of the body by breaking major social taboos: those relating to death, old age, illness, sexuality, and physical deformity.

If the function of the portrait is to reveal, unveil, unmask identity, it also tends to cloud it. Artists, like archeologists, retrace the origins of bodies, explore their plastic qualities and, without false modesty or drama, produce fragmented self-portraits, often frontal, serial compositions, akin to primitive sculpture. The process of the fragmentation of the body reveals a perception of the body that is no longer unified but scattered. It brings to mind the omnipresence of the crisis of the subject, the quest for an identity which is always inaccessible.

Enter parcour