The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum

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Important Update

June 6, 1999, to July 11, 1999 | Old Hundred, Leir Gallery

20 x 24: Recent Portraits by Lyle Ashton Harris

20 x 24: Recent Portraits by Lyle Ashton Harris is the first major public presentation of a selection of images from the new series of unique Polaroid portraits begun by the photographer in the Fall of 1998.

Approaching this exhibition as an installation, the artist has selected forty-eight photographs out of over two hundred images that currently comprise this ongoing series, double-hanging them around the circumference of the architecturally reconfigured exhibition space, the Leir Gallery. The subjects of this series — drawn from a broad range of acquaintances and friends — including the artist's Yoga teacher, a patron, a friend's three-year-old child, and a variety of personalities from the worlds of art and fashion.

These unadorned heads stand in stark contrast to some of Harris's past work, where there is a staged theatricality or complex narrative. Each subject has been captured in a moment of extraordinary vulnerability — at the instant of the opening go the eyes after a prolonged period of relaxation. By also photographing the back of each subject's head, character is further revealed through the particularities of skull, neck and hairstyle.

This series of images raises the issue of just how descriptive of personality a photograph really can be — a top that has interested not only the artist, but many who have analyzed photography's basic nature, including writers such as Susan Sontag and Roland Barthes. As Barthes has written on the experience of being photographed: "Now, once I feel myself observed by the lens, everything changes: I constitute myself in the process of 'posing,' I instantaneously make another body for myself, I transform myself in advance into an image."

In revealing how the stark nudity of a face may result in the creation of yet another kind of mask, Harris's composite portraits, front and back, invariably create vivid readings that are at once intensely personal and archetypal.


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