Toucans of affection

Toucans are one of the most punnable species. No wonder Guinness trial of  “zoo” mascots in 1930s found that the toucan took off, scoring high above the ostriches and tortoises…

Guiness zootoucan_2

Just take one topic, e.g.  ‘Valentine’s Day’: ‘toucan of my affection’, ‘love toucan’, ‘not just a toucan gesture’,  ‘toucan play that game’, ‘toucans take to tango’, ‘a romantic evening for toucans is toucans of Guinness and a packet of…’

And so this colourful cousin of the woodpecker (yes indeed, you’d be forgiven for assuming them to be the Barbara Streisands of the Parrot family) shot to fame thanks to a serendipitous grammatical coincidence of one of the most useful numbers +  the #1 bestseller of the verb world…They came on my radar lately thanks to this one:

14_wolfgang-tillmans-tukan-2010

It’s by German artist Wolfgang Tillmans, whose exhibition at the Tate Modern opens today. Tillmans calls his works ‘images’ and not photographs. The ‘image’ is a careful composition of choices.  Wolgang has cited colour as one of the areas of ‘choice’ over which the photographer, like a painter, has jurisdiction…

Read more about this photograph

 

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What makes a portrait great?  

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

 

Recommended reading

‘Diversion’ by Charlie Masson, oil on board, shown above

The Little Prince by Antoine Saint-Exupéry

The origin of the phrase ‘warts and all