Thanks to NetGalley, I get the opportunity to review some gorgeous art books. The latest is a photographic essay, Face to Face, by Alison Wright. Ms Wright is a superlative photographer, and you can see her work at her website.
Face to Face is simply a gorgeous book. A timeless facebook, is how it is described in the introduction – and yes, faces are timeless but this book goes far beyond mere social media. These faces are unforgettable, from the very young to the very old. Wright has spent a lifetime trying to capture the elusive human spirit in her portraits, in many parts of the world. She seeks the unguarded moment, and often touches something deeper, like the seemingly casual portrait of the Dalai Lama reaching out to touch the hand of one of his guards – a hand that is holding a gun. The loving expression of compassion makes even the weapon seem inconsequential. What power does it have over an uncorrupted human spirit? Yet it is there because of the corrupt human spirits who seek to harm others.
The other images are no less arresting – a young Cambodian monk in his saffron robe is a vivid contrast to the ancient stones of the Bayon Temple; the expressive eyes of a Tibetan monk; a beautiful Tibetan child gazes anxiously as the camera gazes at her; a Nepalese girl carried her sister on her back. All of these portraits, right at the beginning of the book, set the mood. The colours are deep and rich, the light has a Rembrandt quality, and the subjects encompass humility and humanity. These are not camera wise fashion models, they are people reaching through the lens to connect with the viewer.
From the Himalayas to South America to the African Continent, these are the faces of our brothers and sisters on this world. Their faces tell their stories if we could only read the expressions in their eyes, the curve of their mouths, the body language they unconsciously express. It isn’t really about where they come from, if they are rich or poor, if they live in places that look like paradise to us, or a city, or a geisha house – they are us, they are hopeful, wise, apprehensive, calm, direct, joyous and restless. Wright focuses on the eyes, in almost every portrait, and reminds us that eyes truly are the windows of the soul.
Through the lens, they come into our consciousness and we enter their world for a moment. This book is about the power of the lens to bring us all face to face, unable to avoid the fact of our common humanity. Notion of, and preconceptions about, beauty fade from the mind – confronted with character, and beauty that is utterly natural like the portrait of Goite, the first in the book, we study each face for the clues it gives to the soul behind it. This is truly a life’s work to be proud of, and a book to treasure.