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  • Writer's pictureJo Sutherst

Final Major Project: Questioning the Portrait

“We can never be rid of our face. We always take it with us and always lay ourselves bare to the critical look of another”

– (Feil 2008: 29)

As the MA draws to the close, my experiences with the exhibition have reminded me of an article in foam magazine (winter 2008 / #17). Feil asks the reader to consider, knowing all that we know, whether we can truly trust a face.

A photograph taken in the blink of an eye when the subject is aware they are being photographed represents just a moment in time. It cannot tell us about the person. It is a functional representation of the exterior of the person. It reveals nothing about their being. Richard Avedon explained it well – “my photographs don’t go below the surface. They don’t go below anything. They’re readings of the surface.” (Avedon in Feil 2008: 33).

But my work has demonstrated that we cannot even trust what we see. Software and apps enable everyone to manipulate their face in an image. The portraits we are now exposed to online can be altered or unaltered. In some cases, the line between real and manipulated is blurred and we do not understand if what we see is genuine.

This leads me back to Suzy Lake and her work ‘A genuine simulation of…‘. Lake leads the viewer to question whether or not there is an authentic image of herself in the work. We see many images of her face in the work but each is covered in makeup, so is it truly her?

So we are left with the question whether or not any photograph that we see can be considered a genuine representation of the person or scene. Or are all photographs simulations? I leave you to consider that.


Feil, M. 2008. “Questioning the Portrait”. In foam, (#17), 28-34.

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