Photographs capture a moment in time. In exchange for the depth and truth of this one moment, photographs risk loosing the whole truth of all the other moments that have brought it to the viewer.
Saint-Exupéry, in The Little Prince, says ‘What is essential is not seen’. A great portrait can be entirely abstract or ‘warts and all’; the final goal should never be to get a visual likeness, but to take us to unseen dimensions, beyond the skin.
A bad portrait can be replaced by a photograph. A great portrait layers experience over appearance, to conjure up something that’s part of time and yet beyond it.
Many of the portraits in this year’s exhibition pointed towards this extra dimension.
The National Portrait Gallery’s 2016 BP Portrait Award runs until September
‘Diversion’ by Charlie Masson, oil on board, shown above
The Little Prince by Antoine Saint-Exupéry
The origin of the phrase ‘warts and all‘