JTF (just the facts): A total of 16 large scale color photographs, framed in black or silver and unmatted, and displayed in the entry and three connected gallery spaces. The portraits are digital chromogenic prints, sized 65×49 or 58×49, in editions of 5+1AP. The landscapes are lightjet prints, each sized 71×98, also in editions of 5+1AP. There are 12 portraits and 4 landscapes on view. The images were taken between 2004 and 2009. (Installation shots at right.)
Comments/Context: French photographer Pierre Gonnord’s gargantuan photographic portraits vacillate between the openly traditional and freshly contemporary. Their massive scale comes with a nod to Chuck Close and their extreme detail is reminiscent of any number of contemporary photographers pushing the edges of technology. But their head and shoulders poses look back centuries, drifting out of a dark gloomy blackness, reminiscent of Old Masters paintings and their singular power to capture the essence of an individual. The pictures therefore represent an uneasy visual compromise, at once both imposing and intimate, confrontational and humble.
Gonnord’s subjects come not from the privileged classes, but from the realm of the ordinary and forgotten. Luis and Miroslaw are covered in inky, end-of-the-day coal dust, while Magdalena and Basilisa wear the rugged, weathered skin of old age. Krystov’s penetrating glare and bushy beard make him a likely figure out of Dostoyevsky, while Konstantina’s scarred but elegant nose opens up the unanswered questions of her past. Ali’s big eyes, surrounded by a gaunt, muscular face, lock on and don’t let go, engaging the viewer in an unencumbered and direct stare down. In each case, there is the sense of timelessness, of a figure drawn both from the distant past and the recent present, one side capturing an archetype and another documenting a real life individual.
Interspersed with the portraits are a handful of massive landscapes depicting wildfires and volcanic explosions, with spewing ash and choking smoke engulfing the scenes. At one point, I thought the soot stained faces nearby were those of firefighters of some kind, but I was told that the two bodies of work on display were unrelated. As such, I had a hard time making the connection or understanding the interrelationship between the two sets of images, and the landscapes left me a bit puzzled.
All in, I think the best of these Gonnord portraits hold the wall with authority, and will likely appeal most to the same slice of contemporary photo collectors who have gravitated toward the images of Bergman, Mikhailov, Grannan, Kerstens, Learoyd and others who have explored the intersection of the quietly marginal and the up close face.
Collector’s POV: The works in the show are priced as follows. The monumental portraits are either $21750, $23750, $26700, or $29750, based on size and place in the edition. The large scale color fires/explosions are either $29700, $32700, or $34200, based on place in the edition. Gonnord’s work has very little secondary market history, so gallery retail is likely the only option for interested collectors at this point.