Published 4th May 2019
As someone beautiful and blonde sang in 1978:-
All I want is a picture of You.
And if memory serves, across the country, adolescent boys and girls hoped that it might just be 'them' who was the "You'', the object of desire .......if you follow.
A rummage around an attic uncovered a box of family photographs, pictures of You. They were a hidden treasure and a pleasure to shuffle through. Among them, some old black and white photographs were atmospheric and timeless, they were beautiful and real and captured the past.
Braving a Cornish beach with a blanket and picnic hamper, statuesque with a sibling beside a sturdy looking car, cuddling a pet dog in a field, holding freshly picked daisies on a Summer morning. And while the memory of actually being there is less clear, the mental picture of the event, captured on 35mm film and printed postcard size, is as fresh as ever. The fact that the moment actually happened is less real than the fact that the photograph of the moment exists. Time moves on. Now the relevance and importance of experiencing reality and the boundaries between reality and imagination are blurred, distorted and jumbled, largely by Social Media and the Internet. The Internet can make everything real, or fantasy, or some of both, and perhaps it doesn't matter which.
There will be a revolution against the unregulated and intrusive Internet. As young people look back and realise lives spent alone, hypnotised by a small screen, their memories a mess of 'chatting' voyeuristic intrusive moments or gaming, they will struggle to understand whether their relationships and experiences were virtual or real. Then their own reality is even harder to pin down, much harder than the evidence of the black and white pictures in a box in an attic.
So, real pictures and portraits are good. My favourite portrait is Albrect Durer's Self-Portrait at 28 from the early 16th Century. This is a beautiful, rock & roll young man of modernity from five centuries ago. Great portraits are regularly available for sale at auction and they unlock a world of imagination and discovery, some of which may even be factual.
The English School oil on canvas Self-Portrait of a Young Artist (FS42/487) is a perfect example. Is this a boy or is this a girl? Obvious surely colleague proposes a bohemian pre-Raphaelite young man, while I prefer a confident modern young woman. The debate has nothing to do with the quality of the painting, but all to do with interpretation, experience and imagination.
The contemporary fantasy character painter David Eustace teases our imaginations and experiences (FS35/533) and the 18th Century oval oil painting of the intriguing legend that was the Cheshire Prophet (FS37/602) is a glimpse into another world too. The handsome, gentle, fresh looking young man painted by Thomas Carr in the early 20th century (FS36/462) looks like he has the world at his feet, so too a slightly more pensive looking Victorian Girl in a Forest (FS36/477).
To treasure the image of someone else is a beautiful thing. Family portraits, school photographs, first-loves and fantasy, can, with ease, transport you to another time and place. Come to a sale, find a portrait and make up your own story, it really doesn't have to be true.
Debbie Harry set us off, and perhaps one consequence is a closer look at pictures, because All She wants is a Picture of You.
Picture This! The Importance of Portraits was written on Friday, 4th May 2019.