FACE (VOICE III) (2018)
Overview installation - glass wall 2400 x 1520 x 270mm, twenty portrait photographs 291 x 353mm each, the interview sound from the wall
Face means no more or less than an intense and thorough visualisation. Usually we look at the faces of the people we are talking with, look into their eyes and verbally exchange information. By contrast, this work does not reveal the sitters’ identities, nor does it reflect on the society of Aotearoa. It cannot magically unpack the sitters’ inner thoughts and personality. These faces are photographed in profile, in similar position and angle against the same background. Each sitter looks to the right, silhouetted by black negative space.
Their faces include only the eyebrows, eyes, nose and mouth. FACE (VOICE III) explorers the illusory perception of self through the sitter, alternating with the reality of image and existence and mapping how we all appear on the surface.
Our own profile remains hidden to us. We see our faces in the mirror, but cannot see this other side of ourselves and ask who is that? Although we have a good idea of what that other-self looks like, we do not fully recognise or understand it as it is unfamiliar. It is asking to hearing a different person when we hear our own voice recorded. Discovering this new fact about our own face exposes the phenomenon of psychological dissonance, and many refuse to accept the truth.
Tracing the contours of the face not only establishes similarity between sitters, but also evokes their differences. Deeper analysis of each face shows more of the unity that the profiles share. Understanding of that unity develops as more time is spent with the work, though initially we may have a stereotyped way of thinking and we tend to forget about the individual beneath. The intensity of the differences from initial exposure gradually becomes thinner and eventually the borders fade away. However, each portrait still retains the individuality of the sitter. There is an inherent uniqueness to human individuality, even twins possessing their own defining quality which distinguishes them from the other.
Portrait photography records the surface of the face. It cannot render what does not exist. It shows what we actually look like. Since the face is not looking into the lens, the traditional exchange of emotions does not occur between sitter and photographer. No posing or expression is established. However, the sitter still has to give their portrait to the photographer. Looking through the viewfinder for an extended period the sitter, viewed in profile, imperceptibly transforms into a completely different person.
We accept Richard Avedon’s definition of, “a photographic portrait is a picture of someone who knows he is being photographed”. The human face never lies.
FACE is part of the series VOICE III, an ongoing study of people born overseas who have been living in Aotearoa for decades, as well as New Zealanders born of Asian descent.