The latest installment of Graphic Cabinet, an ongoing series of works on paper, is a rare opportunity to see portraits from the Honolulu Academy of Arts’ substantial, yet little shown, photography collection. Face to Face—featuring 20 prints by such 20th-century photographic giants as Robert Frank, Sally Mann, Robert Mapplethorpe, and Garry Winogrand—focuses on the exchange between subject, artist, and viewer.
For example, Yasumasa Morimura’s Ambiguous Beauty, a self-portrait of the artist dressed in drag as Marilyn Monroe, addresses issues of sexual and cultural appropriation in the modern era, and demonstrates a narcissistic collusion between artist and subject that inverts the gaze in an act of direct questioning and self-reflection.
Portraiture—through a performance that happens via the camera lens—reflects and reveals the inherent qualities of its subject as well as the influence of culture on his or her outward representation. Moreover, portraiture is an exchange between artist and subject through which the viewer may explore the larger social-cultural issues of representation and identity that artists have considered since the advent of photography.
Presented in an intimate, visually dense setting, the 20th-century works are a saturated microcosm of today’s media-rich society. As with the Academy’s ukiyo-e prints, the photographs are sparingly shown due to their light-sensitive nature.