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Face to Face: Tacita Dean, Brigitte Lacombe, Catherine Opie

By 18th March 2024April 9th, 2024No Comments

Face to Face, a photobook published by MACK, brings together a selection of portraits of artists created by three influential contemporary portrait artists.

Compiling portraits of artists made by Tacita Dean, Brigitte Lacombe and Catherine Opie, Face to Face provides an opportunity to view influential thinkers and creators—including Maya Angelou, Richard Avedon, Hilton Als, Louise Bourgeois, Joan Didion, David Hockney, Miranda July, Rick Owens, Martin Scorsese, Patti Smith, Mickalene Thomas, Kara Walker, and John Waters, among others—through a revelatory lens.

Face to Face was created in conjunction with an exhibition of the same name, which took place at the International Centre of Photography in 2023. The exhibition was organised by Helen Molesworth, an American writer and curator. The catalogue, published by ICP and Mack, features more than 50 photographs by Catherine Opie and Brigitte Lacombe, plus a selection of film stills by Tacita Dean. The book is sleekly designed and thoughtfully compiled; one photograph is reserved for each double-page spread, inviting viewers to spend a moment examining each image individually. Included in addition to the images are two essays, written by Helen Molesworth and Jarrett Earnest.

Catherine Opie is an American photographer whose work explores various facets of communal, sexual, and cultural identities. Her portrait photographs are powerful in their communicational ability and capacity to tear down preconceptions. Recent projects by Catherine include a series of portrait photographs depicting contemporary artists from a variety of generations. These inquisitive, vulnerable portraits frame her sitters alone, removed from environmental contexts and frequently averting their gazes. The resulting images show the artists deep within their own thoughts; mystifying, melancholic, and allowing viewers a glimpse into the lived human experience of these iconic figures. The photographs by Catherine included in Face to Face span three decades, from 1993 to as recent as 2019.

Brigitte Lacombe, an American photographer, is known for her revelatory portraits of iconic figures from the latter half of the 20th century. For over four decades, she has used characteristically raw photographing techniques to capture images of renowned artists, writers, performers, politicians and intellectuals. Brigitte approaches photography by stripping the image-making process to its essence, capturing her portraits in neutral settings without preconceived ideas or concepts. Some of Brigitte’s portraits featured in this book have been taken in her own studio, while others have been taken in the studios of her sitters. The resulting portraits provide disarming, intimate encounters with each person photographed. Viewing each image, one’s eye is caught by idiosyncratic features and fleeting expressions of emotion. In addition to her portrait photographs, Brigitte also has a lifetime project wherein she photographs artists and performers at work on the movie sets of director Martin Scorsese. This project, which has been ongoing since the mid 1970s, has become an ever-evolving portrait of the director over time. Photographs from this project can also be found in the Face to Face book.

British artist Tacita Dean is renowned for her work in 16mm and 35mm film. Utilising long takes and steady angles, her meditative films explore the passing of time and the transient moments which make up everyday life. The 2023 Face to Face exhibition featured two of Tacita’s films, each inviting the viewer to share a moment in time with certain artists as their lives unfold before the camera. The 16-minute film Portraits (2016) spends time with the artist David Hockney as he goes about his day in his Los Angeles studio. As he reads, smokes and ponders, viewers are given a glimpse into the artist’s creative process.

In another depiction of artists, Tacita’s film One Hundred and Fifty Years of Painting follows a conversation held between the 99-year-old painter Luchita Hurtado and the 49-year-old artist Julie Mehretu, their combined ages providing inspiration for the film’s title. Stills from this film—as well as stills from Portraits—are found throughout the book, presenting the artists from a perspective that is curious, patient, watchful, and contemplative.

The remarkable illustrations featured in this publication are sandwiched between two essays written by Helen Molesworth and Jarrett Earnest. Helen Molesworth’s essay, featured at the beginning of the book, provides a rich insight into the artists and images selected for exhibition. Helen examines each artist’s approach to creating a portrait, comparing and contrasting their methodologies and the resulting impression their artworks impart on a viewer. The essay is heartfelt and engaging; the curator’s enthusiasm for the project radiates through her turns of phrase.

Jarrett Earnest is an American writer and curator. His essay, featured at the book’s end, is titled ‘Art Groupie’, and draws upon real-life experiences of acting as sitter for painted and photographic portraits. Jarrett considers the way in which portrait artworks can assume their own realities and examines who is able to control how an individual is perceived, contemplating the precarious relationship between artist, sitter and viewer. Both Helen and Jarrett’s essays are personal, sincere and entertaining examinations into the charged genre of portraiture.

Intimate and invigorating, Face to Face reveals how different creative approaches can shape how we view a portrait image, while also providing a closer look at the artists whose work has enriched our contemporary culture.

Face to Face: Portraits of Artists by Tacita Dean, Brigitte Lacombe, and Catherine Opie, Helen Molesworth (ed.) is available from MACK Books.

By Ally Bartley