Thursday, 24 March 2011


I always feel doubly enlivened by a creator discussing his creation. Last Summer I wrote about Dryden Goodwin’s Jubilee line portraits from the series entitled ‘Linear’ (see On My Travels – June 2010.) This evening I heard the multi-media portraitist speak on his work in discussion with the writer Geoff Dyer and the curator-come-chairman Camilla Brown, and found inspiration in discovering the series ‘Cradle’, exhibited at the photographer’s gallery (- a place I must take a vow now to visit.)

‘Cradle’, a series of high contrast black and white photos of strangers on the streets of London is but another fulfilment of our modern world so frequently expressed by artists in street photography. Yet, Goodwin has “disrupted the surface” of the print with the scarring of line from an etching needle. What he has described as daring form of ruin, is in fact not subtractive but positively additive. He has cradled the heads of his subjects with the workings of his hands – the tactile nature of the drawn, manual medium in contrast to the detached digital media. He encases this fragile part, protecting it from the unknown turns of the city. It stabilises the body in a moment where it would other wise just be moving through. Without this act, it is more an image of the impermanency of modern life, and less a portrait. This enforcement of the contours of the face, individualises the ‘sitter.’ Without it, it wouldn’t be more than the changing face – as the talk entitled ‘Picturing Everyman’ so knowingly echoed.

The artist described his falling in love with the face of the sitter he draws. Whether he did momentarily, or it is just the undivided focus, the lack of interest in all that is besides it, that suggests to him the euphoria of love, I’m not sure. But certainly, he seeks to contain that moment of the delight in looking at and creating the face, to hold in that place a permanent image – the engraving so sunk it can’t be undone – around the face. The contours are beautiful. From a coarsely carved line is in fact the gentleness of the fluidity of his hand, caressing as he sculpts the face, that in photographing he could only document not altar. Lines like tears, like wrinkles and like dimples charge the face with a psychological depth needed to mar the absence of the photographer, which is felt from pictures like voyeurism. He effectively creates a second image – for when the light shines on the reverse there is only the face that the artist has moulded. However as the artist wished to emphasis he sought an image of “portraying not betraying that person.” He has not really created this person, he has only defined on paper what he has noticed.

This talk was part of series of talks at the National Portrait Gallery entitled ‘Picturing the Self’

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