History in a Portrait

History in a Portrait
I take pleasure in rifling through the contents of dusty old boxes, sifting treasure from trash. I’ve come to know family I’ve never met through photographs. Some I’ve rescued from curbside trash piles, the black and white images gazing back at me, posed in suits and hats with bicycles or dressed in full regalia for a wedding. Examining them, specimen of years I wasn’t born to see, I admire their costumes, necks and fingers draped in jewels and the mask of their expressions. Thus my love affair with photography began, an art that captures within each frame a fragment of history.

a favorite family photograph

In running the mundane errands that I so enjoy, shopping up groceries and returning library books, I stumbled on a photo exhibit in the foyer of my local library: Lucien Lorelle, Painter of Light. The exposition of his work included portraits of young starlets, artistically shot publicity photographs and surrealist scenarios he arranged. Opening Studio Lorelle in 1927 Lucien became a sought after portraitist. He was a member of Groupe des XV who promoted photography as an art and a way to document French patrimony. Though he dreamt of becoming a painter, photography monopolized his time, and the work he did complete he systematically destroyed. Though this exhibit has up and gone, collections of Sarah Moon and Lee Miller’s work are being exhibited through December.

Lee Miller played muse to Picasso as he did to her. The retrospective showcasing of her work at the Jeu de Paume paints a picture of the many facets of her career. She left modelling for an apprenticeship with surrealist artist and photographer Man Ray. Parting ways she pursued art and fashion photography which led to photojournalism. A forerunner to women in the field, she documenting tumultuous times during world war II for Vogue, though the horrors she witnessed firsthand had a lasting effect on her mental health.

Sarah Moon’s posed portraits, mysterious and dark, sit comfortably in the pages of Avant-garde fashion magazines where she herself modelled in the 1960’s. Heads cropped, negative distressed, there is a raw nature to her photographs. In contrast, an element of breeze and fairytale is alive in the still life images. Entry to the Gallery Camera Obscura is free.

Here are some of the books these photographers have compiled:
Gallery links are below.

You Should Also Read:
The Jeu de Paume
Gallery Camera Obscura

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