Portraits from a Warzone: Photojournalism, life and death in conflict, by Helena Roy

It seems that the concept of a finite war has collapsed in the face of long-term conflicts without geographical limits. In the same way, reporting has changed and as smartphones have emerged as a reporting device, perhaps art seems out of place in a war zone. Static, micro-level portraits will not headline the ten o’clock news or sprint through Twitter. The ease of taking grainy last-minute iPhone footage befits the chronicling of ceaseless long-term struggles, it seems. But a portrait can just as easily convey the enormity of a conflict as a graphic battle scene. And as  today’s battle scenes  have chenged, becoming shattered generations rather than muddy, shelled fields – portraiture reflects some of the deeper consequences of war, reverberating across countries and time.

And so, artists are creating collaborative projects to thread communities out of those displaced by war. On 1st February 2014, in central Kiev, anti-government protestors were barricaded in Maidan Nezalezhnosti, living under a lethal siege. Armour was improvised in a setting of ice, fire, smoke and soot. Anastasia Taylor-Lind, a photojournalist from London, set up a makeshift portrait studio by the barricades. The result of her work is immensely powerful. Against a blank black curtain, ordinary men and women confront the viewer, vulnerable in their homemade protective clothing. As time progressed during this project, the artist’s subjects morphed from revolutionaries brandishing weapons, to women cradling flowers for the dead.

'Anika' by Anastasia Taylor-Lind (Kiev, 2014)
'Eugene' by Anastasia Taylor-Lind (Kiev, 2014)
'Olena' by Anastasia Taylor-Lind (Kiev, 2014)

When conflicts feel like relics of history, or too distant to be relevant, photojournalism throws forward untold stories that demand attention. Photojournalist Michael Kamber published photos from three of the Iraq war’s most prominent photographers. Frustrated at America’s desire to tune out of the war, and the US military’s encouragement of indifference by taking an active role in censoring what could be photographed, the cautiously obscure portraits – some shocking and gruesome – convey an unavoidable sense of perpetual sadness.

In Ali Musayyib, an Iraqi child jumps over the remains of victims found in a mass grave south of Baghdad. The victims were killed by Saddam Hussein’s government during a Shiite uprising here following the 1991 Gulf War. (Photography by Marco di Lauro, 27 May 2003)
An Iraqi woman walks through a plume of smoke rising from a massive fire at a liquid gas factory in Basra, as she searches for her husband. The fire was allegedly started by looters picking through the factory. (Photograph by Lynsey Addario, 26 May 2003)
Samar Hassan, five, screams moments after her parents were killed by U.S. soldiers from the 25th Infantry Division. The troops fired on the Hassan-family car when it unwittingly approached during a dusk patrol in the tense northern town of Tal Afar (Photograph by Chris Hondros, 18 January 2005).

The mass of social media flowing from every war zone makes it almost impossible to separate out nuanced understanding from the fake or unrevealing. Portraits from warzones offer a considered insight into the effects of war and social displacement around the world. Kamber’s portraits show wounds scarring both Iraqi and US communities, as soldiers bring home injury, grief and disillusionment with their sovereign state’s confused world identity. Syrian artist Tammam Azzam’s version of Gustav Klimt’s ‘The Kiss’, superimposed on a hauntingly empty, bullet-ridden building in Damascus, is a passionate plea for empathy and kindness amidst cold brutality. Here, the golden ghost of Klimt’s tender portrait mourns the splendour and love the city once offered.

Alan Jermaine Lewis, 23, a machine gunner with the Third Infantry Division, was wounded July 16, 2003, on Highway 8 in Baghdad when the Humvee he was driving hit a land mine, blowing off both his legs, burning his face, and breaking his arm in six places. He was delivering ice to other soldiers at the time. (Photograph by Nina Berman, 23 November 2003 - Milwaukee, Wisconsin.)
Syrian artist Tammam Azzam's 'Kiss' in Syria

As conflict after conflict is buried under an avalanche of new crises, it is too easy to forget one for another. The interchangeablity of hashtags perhaps references this better than anything:  #Ukraine, #Syria, #Iraq and #IslamistState. Photojournalism moves with a society undergoing struggles, capturing the suffering that will remain with people for generations. Most importantly, portraits encourage us to consider the status of the subject in a world perplexed by the boundaries of nation, class, race and religion.

With thanks to Anastasia Taylor-Lind, Michael Kamber and Tammam Azzam for photographs.

Secession and the City: Portraits in Vienna 1900, by Lucy Speelman

Vienna 1900 – the result of revolution.  As an imperial capital of Austria-Hungary, the city was politically and socially volatile to its core.  It was an avant-garde powerhouse of creativity and radical ideas about taste, aesthetics and multiculturalism.  But just beneath this facade of modernity, the age-old insecurities about social status and national identity still thrived.  Prior to 1900, the city’s liberal climate had attracted immigrants from across the whole Empire, many of whom became successful, wealthy and cultured members of the middle classes.  These citizens were the ‘New Viennese’.  But the liberalism that had drawn them to Vienna was short-lived.

Nationalism, conservatism and anti-Semitism increased with the foundation of the Austrian Christian Social Party under Karl Lueger, who was then elected mayor of Vienna in 1897.  The diversity that previously had been embraced was suddenly rejected, and the newly established middle classes had somehow to prove themselves and defend their position.

 

'Portrait of an Unidentified Seated Girl in a White Satin Dress', Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller, 1839

The New Viennese turned to portraiture, in a city where modern art was flourishing.  The National Gallery’s Facing the Modern exhibition addresses these political twists and turns very effectively.  It illustrates how the ambitious middle classes reacted against anti-liberalism using portraiture and theatricality as tools to assert themselves, and how their social instability resulted in a sense of alienation that permeated their whole world.  The first room, titled ‘The Old Viennese’, highlights the significance of the Miethke Gallery’s 1905 exhibition of portraits from the first half of the 19th century.  These portraits were intended to anchor the present to the past; to identify a lineage between the new and old that would pacify the middle classes’ anxieties about their social standing.  The stylistic traits of the works, based on the Biedermeier tradition, also provide an effective point of comparison for the later Secession works.

'Portrait of Amalie Zuckerkandl', Gustav Klimt, 1917-18
'Self Portrait with Raised Bare Shoulder', Egon Schiele, 1912

The Secessionists took their name from the verb ‘to secede’, meaning ‘to withdraw’.  Like the Impressionists, they rejected the strict values of the academies and embraced the avant-garde, the different and the modern.  The portraits exhibited in this exhibition displayed the vitality and powerful expressivity of the Secessionist painters.  The ‘Big 3’ were represented (Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele and Oskar Kokoschka) in haunting and stunning works like Klimt’s unfinished Portrait of Amalie Zuckerkandl and Schiele’s expressive and immediate Self Portrait with Raised Bare Shoulder, but there were also some real gems to be found in some of the lesser known artists.  Isidor Kauffman’s Young Rabbi from N. is a poignant statement about what it meant to be Jewish in an anti-Semitic political climate.  This beautiful portrait defends Judaism and its place in Vienna, yet proudly owns its differences.

'Young Rabbi from N.', Isidor Kaufmann, c.1910

The second room reflected the reformed face of domestic values and what constitutes a family portrait; Freud’s Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality posed serious questions for family life.  The portraits on display here demonstrated a sense of vulnerability, and once again, anxiety.  Schiele’s unsettling work The Family (Self Portrait) from 1918 shows how much family portraits had changed since the work of Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller, for example.  Another room focused on the self-portrait and how self-definition was paramount, and another on women artists and their position within the artistic infrastructure.  Broncia Koller’s Nude Portrait of Marietta from 1907 represents a model as both a studio nude and a portrait, and is strikingly beautiful in its sophisticated simplicity.

'Nude Portrait of Marietta', Broncia Koller, 1907

The penultimate space was dedicated to death and Vienna’s morbid fascinations.  Posthumous and deathbed portraiture were very popular (as were death masks), and while this may seem rather pessimistic to current viewers, these works were often celebratory a well as commemorative.  The idea of the ‘beautiful corpse’ (schöne Leich) embodies this juxtaposition of beauty and dignity in life with beauty after death.  Klimt’s portrait of Ria Munk on her Deathbed (1912) is a perfect example of this kind of celebration.  Her head resting on a pillow, surrounded by flowers, the young woman could be mistaken for a literary maiden asleep, vulnerable yet beautiful, rather than the tragic reality of a young woman who shot herself in the heart.

'Ria Munk on her Deathbed', Gustav Klimt, 1912

Despite scathing reviews from the Guardian, in my opinion Gemma Blackshaw curated a show which informatively and enjoyably combined the old with the new and demonstrates the expressive power of the portrait.  Having just returned from Vienna myself, I can testify to its current magnificence and beauty.  Sadly, much of it is a reconstruction, having been torn apart by war.  But seeing this exhibition before I arrived helped me to imagine what an incredibly diverse and complex climate had occupied the city about a century ago; a radical age of theatricality, wonder, constant change and most importantly, anxiety.

'Portrait of a Lady in Black', Gustav Klimt, c.1894

 

With thanks to the National Gallery.  For more information, please see their website and the exhibition catalogue.

“Live life as though nobody is watching, and express yourself as though everyone is listening.” Nelson Mandela’s enduring symbolism, by AHA alum Helena Roy

That Nelson Mandela’s influence is so pervasive is evident not just in the way he changed South Africa. Beyond that isolated period of history, it spreads from Hollywood, through galleries and music, to the streets of Johannesburg. From Clint Eastwood’s soaring film ‘Invictus’ to the eminence Mandela gave Henley’s poem by reciting its mantra of self-mastery to fellow prisoners on Robben Island, the strength of his values have gained extensive prominence in the creative arts.

His death is quite obviously a painful loss. The world has lost a statesman valued internationally for his humility and inescapable relevance to justice and freedom, and South Africa has lost its most beloved son. But the blow of his absence is softened by the fact that he was already an icon. The morals he represented transformed him into a symbol of kindness, modesty, forgiveness and reconciliation. The views he propagated have an unbeatable international following that will inevitably continue. Refusing to be classed by any label thrown upon him – be it as a criminal, judged by race or nationality – he became a universal icon in every sense of the phrase.

Murals and street art of Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg, Soweto and Cape Town in South Africa

Street art blends Mandela into the very construction and bustling, heaving life of South Africa; it shows the history of the country not through architecture, but through urban mural. His image spreads from the streets of South Africa to squares on London; outside Parliament he serves as a constant reminder to the inevitability of defeat unjust government must face.

The statue of Nelson Mandela in Parliament Square, London

At a time when the ANC and Mandela were taboo in South African media, songs inspired by South African music spread worldwide. ‘Free Nelson Mandela’ remains the epitome of exploitation of popular music for powerful political purposes. The very act of singing when mere mention of his name was banned, was itself a peaceful, delighted expression of opposition to persecution and solidarity with divided South Africans.

The album cover for 'Free Nelson Mandela' (1984) by The Special AKA

Photographs of him capture the reality of his fight and act as proof of his message. In the National Portrait Gallery, photographs of a young man reasoning and challenging can be found from 1962; of an elderly statesman ever-conscious and proactive from 1997.

Mandela by Michael Peto (1962) and Jillian Edelstein (1997), in the National Portrait Gallery, London

Mandela has been, and remains, an intense creative symbol because the life he lived was so vibrant, poignant and real. Almost uniquely, the fact that this symbolism is backed up by reality strengthens the message in a way no myth or legend could, and thus ensures its enduring popularity among the creative. Mandela symbolised freedom and equality – but proved their worth by living his life for them, rather than asserting their value by analogy.

With thanks to the National Portrait Gallery, Wikipedia and ADN for pictures.

‘Laura Knight: Portraits’: thoughts on her recent exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, by Lucy Speelman

 

Volume after volume of academic rhetoric is devoted solely to the role of women in the arts and in their history.  I suspect it will continue to be such a hotly debated topic for many years to come, and I think it is unfortunate that so many artistic careers are overshadowed by the issue of gender, and that many works by female artists cannot be extricated from associations with feminism, whatever the artist’s intentions.  One of the first facts that I learnt about Laura Knight was that she was the first woman to be elected to the Royal Academy.  This is of course highly commendable, considering that the art establishment was so male-dominated.  But for me, her pioneering status is unrelated to her gender.  What I find extraordinary about her is the way that no subject was too trivial or uninteresting to her; no figure was too unimportant or too much of an outsider.  She never limited herself: her works display a huge variety of subject matter, all united by one theme – portraiture.  From gypsies to clowns, dancers to playwrights: each sitter was accorded the same amount of effort and significance.  This exhibition did its best to display each significant part of her oeuvre, and while it was small in size, it succeeded in presenting an impressive cross-section of this wonderful artist’s extensive career.

 

'Self Portrait', 1913, National Portrait Gallery, London

 

The first work visitors were presented with was her 1913 Self Portrait.  Controversial and criticised at its time of creation, this work is pioneering in the sense that it makes a bold statement about the equality of male and female artists.  Women had been painting themselves in conventional poses and smart dress for a long time already, but there stands Laura Knight with her back to the viewer, wearing fairly ‘ordinary’ clothes, in the process of painting a nude model (which was completely taboo for women artists).  The work seems to be a striking image of her life and ambition, reduced into one breathtaking painting.  Her bold use of colour is also seen in Rose and Gold (1914).  She once famously stated that “an ebullient vitality made me want to paint the whole world”, and this work is a perfect example of that sentiment.  Her startling brushstrokes and bright hues create a scene full of vibrancy and joy that perfectly embodies her passion for life.

 

'Rose and Gold', 1914

 

In 1919, Laura and her husband Harold moved to London, where Laura spent time backstage observing and painting Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, and then actresses in Drury Lane and the Regent Theatre. She considered women performers to be her ‘fellow workers’ within the arts, and like Degas, she focused not on the polished grandeur of performance, but on the private intimacy of preparation and dressing rooms.  This theme of performers ‘off-duty’ and behind the scenes is continued in her paintings of circus performers, such as Three Clowns (1930).  By immersing herself in their daily routines, she gained a deeper understanding of their lives as travelling performers, and as a result her circus and gypsy works are full of colour and character.

 

'Three Clowns', 1930, Leicester Arts and Museums Service

 

Laura’s trip to Baltimore, Maryland in 1926 produced a skilled series of drawings of patients in the racially segregated wards of Johns Hopkins Memorial Hospital.  The drawings are closely cropped and reveal little about the identity or character of the subject, but are very intriguing and somehow haunting.  The wide-eyed child in The Piccaninny (1927) is particularly striking.  The group of drawings formed a quiet corner of the colourful first room of the exhibition, and the two styles contrast well.

 

'The Piccaninny', 1927, private collection

 

War presented Laura with a challenge.  Employed by the War Artists Advisory Committee, her artistic autonomy (particularly her choice of subject) was suddenly limited.  However, the result is overwhelmingly successful.  Only about 13% of WAAC artists were female, and they were usually steered towards depicting more domestic subjects, like nursing and food centres.  Take-Off (1943) is a stirring combination of vibrant colour and dramatic lighting that creates an incredibly striking work of action and intensity.

 

'Take-Off', 1943, Imperial War Museum, London

 

Her images of women at work promote and celebrate their position during the war, just as they were intended to.  Ruby Loftus Screwing a Breech Ring has grown to be an iconic image of the British women’s war effort.  It is dynamic, detailed and impressive, and perfectly fulfils the WAAC’s desire for a female factory worker role model.  The Nuremberg Trial, however, is an extraordinary work that shows the darker side of the war, the side of devastation and destruction that cannot be reduced or censored, and it contrasts well with the somewhat sterilised or idealised images of factory workers.

 

'Ruby Loftus Screwing a Breech Ring', 1943, Imperial War Museum, London

In my opinion, Laura Knight was an extraordinary woman, and this exhibition gave me a sense of the eccentricity and adventure that was her existence.  It was successful in showing that her work contains the same expressive vitality and dynamic spirit as she did as she made her inquisitive journey through life.

 

'The Nuremberg Trial', 1946, Imperial War Museum, London

 

For more information, please visit the National Portrait Gallery’s website.

Around the World in Eighty Minutes: AHA alum Helena Roy reviews Genesis by Sebastião Salgado at the Natural History Museum

In a world where snap-happy Instagrammers are producing millions of edited photos daily (I admit it, guilty as charged), photography is becoming more and more popular, and, arguably, more and more ‘mainstream’. Sebastião Salgado’s exhibition at the Natural History Museum, however, is classic and revolutionary – a reassertion of what photography should be about.

Through the Natural History Museum’s cavernous hall, Salgado’s exhibition is tucked down a corridor – a spacious, minimalist room displaying photographs on recyclable structures.

The exhibition room at the Natural History Museum
The Genesis exhibition at the Natural History Museum

Leila Wanick Salgado (Sebastião Salgado’s wife, who masterfully curated the exhibition) says Genesis is “a quest for the world as it was, as it was formed, as it evolved, as it existed for millennia before modern life accelerated and began distancing us from the very essence of our being.” It is far too easy to spend forever wandering round the exhibition, admiring the mosaic of the world it shows. Genesis combines art with natural history, geography and zoology in one rich display.

Salgado’s photos show landscape and natural life on an epic scale. In the vast and remote regions he studies, nature reigns supreme. Though all the photos are in black and white, they are not static in the slightest, and instead lend Salgado’s subjects majesty, and a sense of powerful silence.

He redefines high-definition, and the motion he captures is just as intense as any shot in an Attenborough documentary. Genesis displays not just brilliant photography, but incredible natural history. It shows the extremities and eccentricities of natural world in full force.

Salgado’s shots portray animal life in a wonderful way. (He often photographs from a balloon to avoid disturbing animals with unnatural noise of engines.) There are portraits of a mountain gorilla, leopard or tortoise staring accusingly and emotively at you for intruding into their isolated world. The glowing eyes of hundreds of caimans light up the surface of the Pantanal Wetlands in Brazil (which house over 10 million of the species in total), while in another photograph, the tail of a southern right whale emerges solitary and butterfly-like from the surface in the Valdés Peninsula, Argentina.

Two lions – brothers – collapse upon one another under the shade of a tree after a night of hunting

Along with animals, Salgado studies human tribes, showing our species’ affinity with nature. A Yali Huntsman blends in with ferns in West Papua, Indonesia – the sinews of his body contouring the lines of the leaves. A sledge stands against a blank and barren Siberian landscape, driven by a Nenet woman with three reindeer as companions. Salgado shows their habits, rituals and lifestyle – connecting the viewer in London with people from the outermost corners of the globe.

The landscapes in the exhibition are unrivalled. Salgado magnifies the tentacles of carnivorous plants in Venezula, and zooms out on the huge mountains in the Brooks Range, Alaska, which slide down to shelter a river, minute by comparison. He gives a bird’s-eye view of Disappointment River snaking through a mountain range in Canada, and the Perito Moreno Glacier swelling to blanket a landscape in white, and slice a river in half, in Argentina.

The Brooks Range, Alaska

Genesis is not merely trying to convey nature’s beauty, however. Leila Wanick Salgado says it is “a call to arms”, and a “visual tribute to a fragile planet.” It forces us to think about climate change and our actions – not only our responsibility to protect the planet, but the guilt we all share for damaging it as we have thus far. For their part, the Salgados run Instituto Terra, a non-profit conservation organisation. But we all have a duty to not only conserve the natural world, but nurture it. As the Salgados say: “Governments can act to control… emissions, but only trees naturally absorb carbon dioxide and produce oxygen.”

Genesis continues at the Natural History Museum until 8th September

With thanks to the Natural History Museum and theupcoming.co.uk for photographs.

Delaroche and Damien Hirst: views on capital punishment – by AHA alum Helena Roy

Politicians, campaigners, philosophers, journalists and many others always clamour to express their views on sensitive ethical issues through the press. In conjuring an emotion and provoking a reaction, however, art can surpass this medium – on the issue of capital punishment, two pieces stand out to me in doing so.

St Bartholomew was one of the twelve apostles, flayed alive for refusing to worship Pagan gods. Damien Hirst’s St Bartholomew: Exquisite Pain symbolises the greatness of freedom of speech and strength to say what you believe.

‘St Bartholomew: Exquisite Pain’ by Damien Hirst

The sculpture conveys a key message: unjustified pain can be overcome to achieve greatness. Hirst says: ‘It has the feel of a rape of the innocents’, but despite this aesthetic the figure still steps forward and displays strength and defiance. The pose is neither timid nor physically hurt. His skin, draped over one arm, is carried as a trophy with the scissors, showing the insignificance of pain inflicted by those who are wrong, and celebrating how resilience against injustice can transcend the petty physical.

Whilst St Bartholomew was killed for obviously unjust reasons, I believe the message criticising capital punishment in general, remains. The taking of someone’s life intentionally is always murder, and even if the accused is guilty, they become a victim. The sculpture objectifies another key argument against using capital punishment: the killing of an innocent man while believing him guilty is an unforgivable tragedy. It also shows the martyrdom offered to those facing the punishment: rise above or defy it and you can be seen as heroic and brave, while your punisher is shamed.

Paul Delaroche’s The Execution of Lady Jane Grey, however, I think acquiesces to capital punishment, and to me this destroys its appeal. I cannot deny its artistic magnificence, but it is also cruel, painful and a true example of why capital punishment is so wrong.

 

'The Execution of Lady Jane Grey' by Paul Delaroche, displayed in the National Gallery

Its historical reality heightens the sense of injustice. Lady Jane Grey’s reign lasted nine days – resulting in her execution, aged 16, along with her husband and father: to whom she was a mere puppet.

Painted with uncanny realism, the event is portrayed in a private setting. Although inaccurate, this makes the observer feel like a witness – not a historian observing an informative article. When the painting was first showcased in 1834 it caused a sensation – it is not hard to see why.

While most of the painting is in darkness, Jane is bathed in light – aesthetically asserting her innocence. Fresh straw lies around the block, there to soak up blood that will follow. This makes it even more devastating, as instead of creating a still scene in your head it creates a series of pictures, ending with the death of an innocent girl.

Delaroche’s masterpiece succeeds in conjuring the emotion of watching an execution – it has more emotional punch than many of today’s graphic films. It portrays a state of mind no human should ever be forced to experience: completely contradictory to human nature but the essence of capital punishment.

Jane’s innocence is, like Hirst’s piece, a key argument against using capital punishment. But what makes Delaroche’s work more upsetting is her resignation. Her acquiescence with the execution and passive acceptance – trying to find the block with her hands – gives the piece a sense of hopelessness Hirst’s does not have. Delaroche protests Jane’s innocence with his artistic technique and symbolism – but she does not.

The Streatham Portrait believed to be of Lady Jane Grey

By contrast to Lady Jane Grey, St. Bartholomew was obscure – as an apostle, not even his name is certain. However, in Hirst’s depiction he emerges from his insignificance and there can be no question of his power. His freedom and will, and the pleasure of exerting it and not submitting, as Jane does, makes the sculpture fantastic to witness. The fact that he is overcoming his punishment makes the pain and his killers insignificant, and him ‘exquisite’.

With thanks to mymodernmet.com and Wikipedia for photos.

A study of modern artist Alexa Meade: by AHA alum Helena Roy

Magdalena Sawon, owner of the Postmasters Gallery in New York, pointed out that ‘a portrait is something that’s been with us for 3,000 years – that’s not an easy genre to move forward.’ She was referring to the fascinating achievement of modern artist Alexa Meade’s work – a heady fusion of portrait, performance and photography.

Meade is an American artist specialising in sculptural media, installation art and modern portrait – with some filming in her repertoire as well. Now 27 and a successful professional artist, she comes from a political background (she holds as BA in Political Science, and has worked in PR at Obama’s Denver headquarters). Meade has said this ‘led to a fascination with the possibilities of repackaging source texts and adding superficial modifications that would profoundly alter perception.’ She never attended an art school, or even took advanced art classes.

Perhaps having barely any background in art has made it easier for her to be ground-breaking. Her work is raw and real, blurring the line between fiction and reality – she believes that ‘what one experiences cannot always be interpreted at face value; seeing is not necessarily believing.’

Meade’s ‘Reverse Trompe L’Oeil’ installation was first revealed in October 2009. She applies acrylic paint in large brush-strokes directly to her subjects’ bodies, then photographs them in different settings. When the 3D installation (or ‘performance’) is reproduced in a 2D photograph, the effect is an unsettling piece – close to, but not completely, an oil painting.

‘Alexa Split in Two’, 2010 – a self portrait by the artist

One of the best works to demonstrate her unique method is her 2010 self portrait – ‘Alexa Split in Two’. It is a photo of a performance of the artist imitating herself. The real Alexa reaches over from one side, to create a semi-fictional Alexa with art on the other. The colour, tones and contours she imposes on her subjects are similar to those present in Lucian Freud’s later work. She brings out harsh, exaggerated lines on the face by enhancing shadows and emphasising bone structures, framing faces with angular eyebrows.

Another intriguing work is her series named ‘Transit’ – photographs showing a performance by a live model, painted with acrylic, in the rush-hour subway. Surrounded by people, the model looks out of place – it is like a fantasy in which a figure from a work of art who has found himself in real life. The juxtaposition also shows the power of paint – the overstated contours and colours on the subject make his figure infinitely more expressive and extraordinary than the real-life humans around him.

‘Transit’, 2009 – a series by the artist set in the subway

Her portraits are dynamic and powerful. They showcase the strength painting can give to a subject, but seem to convey more real emotion, as the eyes of the figure remain real and unmasked. It is the subject’s eyes that are always the most unsettling thing about her photographs – we first see an acrylic portrait, but live eyes staring back at us jar with their surroundings, and make the divide between photography and painting hazy.

‘Transit’, 2009 – a series by the artist set in the subway

Meade has described her technique as ‘painting a portrait of somebody on top of himself.’ Her innovative imagination has created works that trick the eye and confuse the senses. The intersection of painting, photography, performance and installation bring together new techniques with old in one stimulating modern mix. And, indeed, gives something new and exhilarating to a genre over 3,000 years old.

With thanks to alexameade.com for photos.