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'Faces Now: European Portrait Photography since 1990' opens at the Centre For Fine Arts in Brussels
Thomas Ruff, Portrait (A. Kachold), 1987 © Thomas Ruff / SABAM.

BRUSSELS.- Faces Now brings together the work of 32 photographers and visual artists who in the past 25 years have been decisive figures in innovation in the realm of European portrait photography. Alongside big names such as Anton Corbijn, Rineke Dijkstra, Boris Mikhailov, Thomas Ruff, Juergen Teller and Stephan Vanfleteren, less well known – but influential – photographers are also part of the selection. The exhibition demonstrates the power, wealth and diversity of contemporary European photography and makes links with the Renaissance tradition – the origin of the portrait genre.

Faces Now scrutinises the stratified and diverse identity of European citizens. It is the first exhibition which looks back on the interesting developments which European portrait photography has experienced since 1989. It signals a trend in the genre whereby the individual – famous or anonymous – and his or her social and cultural identity occupy centre stage. This artistic development takes place against the background of extremely rapid changes within Europe due to globalisation, migration, the advent of the internet and economic unification: changes which have focused on the notion of ‘identity’ since 1990. The exhibition raises questions about identity, culture and history and the relationship between the subject, the observer and the photographer.

The exhibition highlights this development with the aid of the work of famous or prominent portrait photographers from recent decades. Iconic series such as Rineke Dijkstra’s beach portraits and the portraits series by Thomas Ruff have been included. The latter had a key role in innovation within the genre which came about in the early 1990s. Other influential series such as ‘Rokytnik’ by the Czech Jitka Hanzlová or ‘Case History’ by the Ukrainian Boris Mikhailov, both with political connotations, are also represented in the exhibition.

The exhibition contains both studio and location portraits. One characteristic of the 1990s is that the portrait genre forms diverse links with fashion, documentary and photojournalism. Fashion photographer Juergen Teller took photos of young girls who had come knocking because they wanted to become cover girls. The portraits by Greek photographer Nikos Markou are also documents of the current economic situation in Greece. In a documentary-style setting Tina Barney made a series of portraits of well-to-do families at home. Stephan Vanfleteren also chose to include the personal setting as part of the portrait in his series of portraits of Flemish fishermen.

Photographers and visual artists are for the most part all too aware of the rich and age-old (painterly) portrait traditions. In their work they sometimes consciously refer to it or play around with it. Whereas portraits were traditionally made of people with a high status or an important social function, these days focus is often placed on the common man or woman in everyday life. The interaction between the traditional style characteristics and a contemporary interpretation can be seen again in the exhibition. Photographer Clare Strand placed homeless people in a classic English landscape setting and with their staged classic ‘corporate portraits’ Clegg & Guttmann also refer back to the old portrait traditions.

Since the 1990s a rising number of photographers have been turning their objective to the everyday citizen and fellow man. This includes the likes of Beat Streuli and Luc Delahaye who photograph people on the street without their knowledge. But the exhibition also includes portraits of politicians, pop stars, artists (including self-portraits, such as those by Dita Pepe and Alberto Garcia-Alix) and famous film stars (Isabella Rosselini, Francis Bacon, Luc Tuymans, Jacques Delors, Wim Duisenberg et al). Stephan Vanfleteren shows for the first time the portrait he made of Jan Hoet, shortly after he passed away.

Selected photographers
Tina Barney, Sergey Bratkov, Koos Breukel, Clegg & Guttmann, Anton Corbijn, Christian Courrčges, Denis Darzacq, Luc Delahaye, Rineke Dijkstra, Jitka Hanzlová, Konstantinos Ignatiadis, Alberto García-Alix, Stratos Kalafatis, Boris Mikhailov, Nikos Markou, Hellen van Meene, Jorge Molder, Lucia Nimcova, Adam Pańczuk, Dita Pepe, Anders Petersen, Paola De Pietri, Jorma Puranen, Thomas Ruff, Clare Strand, Beat Streuli, Thomas Struth, Juergen Teller, Ari Versluis & Ellie Uyttenbroek, Stephan Vanfleteren, Manfred Willmann

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