American essayist Oliver Wendell Holmes hailed photography as “the mirror with a memory.” Certainly, portrait photography presents us with a mirrored likeness. Yet portraits reveal more than the physiognomy of the sitter; like a mirror, they invite us to reflect on ourselves. New Faces celebrates the range of themes, styles and approaches to the contemporary photographic portrait while exploring the introspective nature of portraiture. Rather than presenting the viewer with the facts about a person, these portraits provoke inquiry and engage the viewer in a dialogue. What can we learn from a portrait? What do we read into a portrait?
New Faces showcases twenty-seven important photographs that have recently been brought into the permanent collection. Grant Mudford’s series of southern California artists, made in the late 1980s, read like mug shots or passport photographs. Their larger-than-life-size presence is confrontational and revealing. Roger Eberhard places his subjects against a plain backdrop as well, but he photographs them in the best light possible. The unsettling portraits by the young Sanchez brothers, Carlos and Jason, and Austrian artist Gottfried Helnwein are provocative and disturbing, hinting at the darker side of human existence. Robert Weingarten challenges the traditional notion of portraiture in a series titled “The Portrait Unbound,” images which he describes as translucent composites.
The new faces chosen for this exhibition are representative of the rich holdings in the photography collection that spans centuries, styles and continents. In this, our 70th anniversary year, the Santa Barbara Museum of Art celebrates its collections and accomplishments, its legendary founders and generous donors.