Daniel KlaasJoanna (2014)

The part of my brain that thrills in voyeurism enjoys portraiture. It’s a bit like a two-way mirror: I can watch without being seen.

But something about it is vaguely unsettling. I’ve been trying to work it out and I think it boils down to conceptual concerns over the negotiation of identity via depiction in visual representation.

That’s an annoyingly academic, overly verbose way of saying: at its most fundamental level portraiture establishes a thorny, four-way intersection between how the subject sees them self, how the subject wishes to be seen, how to photographer sees the subject and the how the photographer’s work is seen by the viewer.

Portraitists walk a razor wire tight rope between bearing witness and trading in what is effectively undeserved intimacy–i.e. the objectifying tradition of thinking I know because I have looked closely and seen.

Off the top of my head, Ryan Muirhead and Lynn Kasztanovics are the two photographers who manage to re-contextualize portraiture into something that testifies to the truth in the transaction of at once being, seeming, being seen and the politics of depiction while fostering subjects enigmatic non-object-ness. Muirhead does it with a mastery of craft and attention to the holy moments between defensive pretense and unguarded openness to the world; Kasztanovics collaborates with those she knows and trusts–her informality and the proximity to her subjects creates something not unlike the discomfort of someone sitting too close on public transit whom, contrary to all reason, you find yourself fighting the urge to reach out and caress their face.  (Lina Scheynius and Traci Matlock also fuck with portraiture in fascinating ways but both seem less interested in working within the form than transgressing it’s boundaries.)

Back to Klaas: he’s a Melbourne based photographer who favors analog photographic process. And I am not overly fond of his work but this image is quite unlike his typical milky exposures and rendering pose as contrived sculptural element. Instead, it reads as a sort of record of a moment in which the confluence in a body of subject and objective experiences of reality was quietly observed.

So there’s that. But also, there’s also fascinating technical considerations: the mid-tones are relegated to the background wall, couch and Joanna’s face. Everything is super contrasty with either deep, rich shadows or highlights pushed to the edge of blowing out.

Depth of field dictates the way the eye scans the image–It reminds me of mrchill, in that regard– and emphasizes her enigmatic expression, as if she is calm, comfortable, perhaps even a bit contemplative. (Note: the grace notes in her hand placement; probably my favorite part.)

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