Tag Archives: portraiture

Elina Brotherus & Esther Teichmann


Elina Brotherus and Esther Teichmann are the first of five photographer we are directed to study whose work fits into the category of mirrors. They use their own experiences to examine matters that affect most of us, if not all. Brotherus’s series 12 ans après is a follow-up  to one she made after first moving to France, Suites françaises, and it expands on her increased understanding of the language and society after 12 years. In the original, she shows a novel way of learning a language through Post-It notes (I must remember this in future) which is at the same time a reflection on loneliness and isolation in a foreign country. 12 years later, she returns to reprise some of the original photographs, but with the additional understanding she has gained in the interim. The notes are longer, but less obvious in the images, and one often has to look closely to find them. Brotherus’ work is always about herself, but relates to emotions and situations which many of us recognise. Having moved all over the world as an adult, her feelings of confusion and culture shock about moving somewhere new resonate for me.


© Elina Brotherus

Esther Teichmann

For me, Brotherus’s work seems quite remote. It is considered and set up in an orderly way. Teichmann’s work is almost the opposite – chaotic, dreamy, wildy different formatting and with ideas building up over the course of a series rather than being obvious from the start. To me, it feels much more emotionally led, and the way she goes about making her work is more appealing to me. She says that the process of researching and making a piece is what interests her and the end result is not as important. I like the way she talks about using the ideas of fragmentation and  transience, and her acceptance that freedom from the constraint of being confined to one particular media brings. Her work has a surreal, non-geographic feel which is quite different from Brotherus, whose work is very clearly rooted in her landscapes. The concept that really resonated with me was her desire to explore the gap between solid reality and the inner fantasy world that we all (I presume) carry around inside ourselves, and I want to come back to this later in my work towards my current assignment. I also like the fact that she uses people-free images as part of her portraiture.

On the face of it though, I prefer the look of Brotherus’s work. It is neat and clean and very precise. Teichmann’s work is more of a seemingly random collection of images, sound and voice, which can look very chaotic, but which has an underlying thread which tugs away at the consciousness and reminds us of the private thoughts and fantasies that lurk underneath our outward adult exterior.


© Esther Teichmann

Having just come back from a weekend of mindful photography in Venice, Teichmann’s method of working seems much more in tune with how I want to go about making my own work than Brotherus. One of the things that has been bothering me about my last assignment was the way I had to pre-think and organise what I wanted to do, and although I feel the results were OK, the process felt alien. It was too organised. I’d much prefer to work the other way, by taking images with a concept in mind and seeing what they say to me.


Boothroyd Sharon (2013).  Elina Brotherus Interview [online].  Photoparley.  Available from:  https://photoparley.wordpress.com/2013/03/29/elina-brotherus/  [Accessed 14 February 2017]

Brotherus, Elina (2015).  Elina Brotherus Talk from open College of the Arts [online].  Available from:  http://www.oca-student.com/content/photographers-talking?page=1#comment-72335  [Accessed14 February 2017].

Galerie les Filles de Calvaire.(2015) Esther Teichmann: in search of lightning. Press release. At: http://www.fillesducalvaire.com/press/10/48-2.pdf


Historic portraiture


The portrait is a sign whose purpose is both the description of an individual and the inscription of social identity. (Tagg, 1988, p37)

Unpacking this statement, it is easy to understand the description of an individual, and I take it to mean what they physically look like. The inscription of social identity is a bit more complex, so I consulted Google and came up with this explanatory article. It seems that social identity is our perception of how we fit into society, at the group, cultural and even national level. Tagg is arguing that the act of making a portrait is a way of making public where the sitter fits into society, often through the background trappings and the clothes the sitter wears. Historically, the information we gleaned from the setting of a painted portrait and how the sitter was placed in relation to that was important information about  his (usually) status and place in society. Only the rich could afford to have their portraits made, and to own one was something of a status symbol in its own right.

For interest, below are two photographic portraits which illustrate Tagg’s statement quite clearly.

The advent of photography continued this symbolism, as in its early days, again only the rich could afford it. However, as time has move forward, photography has become available to more and more people, it is easy to assume that the social identity element is disappearing. Far from it! Smartphone cameras, available to all, have made that inscription available to all, while the “selfie” allows the photographer complete control to inscribe the social identity they wish to display. This may, or may not have anything to do with reality. An excellent example of this is Amalia Ulman’s constructed life, which turned out to be entirely fictitious, and which I looked at here. Nowadays, we can all be who we want to be online, rather than revealing the truth about our dull, unremarkable lives.

A second point from this section of the coursework is to note that history is not a firm construct. When one begins to break it down, there is the past, where things happened, and there is history, or historiography, which is how the events were/are interpreted, and even whether they are recalled at all. It is important that we realise that most of what we understand about history has been filtered through a white, male, rich European sieve, which failed to recognise the lives and achievements of anyone who did not fit into that group. Where are the stories of women, of the poor, and of ethnic minorities?




Tagg, J. (1988) The burden of representation: essays on photographies and histories. Minneapolis:University of Minnesota Press

Note on a historic painted portrait

Recently, I was wandering around the Scottish National Gallery in Edinburgh, and a particular portrait caught my eye. It is an oil painting by the American artist, John Singer Sargent, and is called Lady Agnew of Lochnaw.


What struck me about this image is the expression on the woman’s face. In my perambulations round art galleries throughout the years, I’ve been very disappointed with how women’s faces are portrayed. Many of them lack detail and frequently all the women in a painting look the same. It seems obvious to me that painters concentrated their efforts on the faces of the men, and the women were an afterthought.

John Singer Sargent seems to be someone who bucked this trend, and a quick look through some of his portraits on Google shows that, if anything, his depictions of women were more detailed than those of men. This painting was commissioned in 1892 and shows Lady Gertrude Agnew, apparently while she was recovering from a bout of influenza. She is seated in an ornate armchair, with a background of draped fabric and an air of exaggerated languor. The sitter is dressed in plain pale mauve.

Lady Agnew is looking directly at the audience, in a way which seems much too modern for her era, in which gentlewomen were supposed to be modest, shy and retiring. Her expression is bold, slightly challenging, and there is a hint of a smile at the corner of her mouth. With her arm draped casually over the arm of the chair, my reading of the image is there is a strong attraction between the sitter and the artist, and she is overtly flirting with him. I don’t think I have ever seen such an obviously sexual painting posing under the guise of a commissioned portrait, and wonder what her husband thought of it.

I’m a bit of a Philistine when it comes to painted art, and the only other painting that I have seen that struck such a chord of appreciation is The Execution of Lady Jane Grey  by Paul Delaroche at the National Gallery. It seems too that my enthusiasm is shared by some others too. Phil Jupitus, in the blog post and video here is just as enchanted by it.