Magnetic Portraits

Magnetic Portraits

Fundación MAPFRE’s Casa Garriga Nogués Exhibition Hall boasts a sprawling 10-year retrospective of Richard Learoyd, curated by SFMOMA’s Sandra Philipps. Containing 51 pieces spanning a decade, the show – travelling to Fotomuseum Den Haag – covers a staggering amount of ground in what is not only a sublime revisitation of Learoyd’s oeuvre, but a timely refuge from the constant flow of digital imagery in the outside world.

Using a camera-obscura-based dye destruction positive-to- positive photographic process, Learoyd creates dreamy, larger than life impressions of meticulously arranged subjects, straight from reality to print – a method which imbues the photographs with a remarkable physicality and an almost mystical presence. Surrounded by the monastic silence of the gallery, disturbed only by the muted creak of wooden floorboards and the distant hum of electric ventilation, these works exert a magnetic pull on the viewer, arresting his gaze and demanding a surrender of the senses.

Whilst Learoyd’s still lifes are deliberate and considered, his portraits are treacherously raw and unadulterated in their emotion. They stand in contrast to the painstaking photographic process behind them and the long history from which they draw. Recurring female models sit reflectively, presented in soft and melancholy, Vermeeresque light, whilst two stunning homages to Ingres and Lucian Freud, After Ingres and Julie Horizontal, are truly masterful projects through both form and execution.

There is something extraordinary about experiencing Richard Learoyd’s photographs in person, as much a product of the images’ distinctive gravity as of the surreal observation of the human condition they present. The Silence of the Camera Obscura is monumental, providing audiences with a sweep of rare, unabashed brilliance.

Diego Von Lieres and Wilkau Saavedra

On view at Fundación MAPFRE until 7 September. Find out more here.
The Fotomuseum Den Haag show runs from 5 October – 5 January. Find out more here.

Lead image: Melanie, 2015. Fotografia única en paper Ilfochrome, 147.3cm × 121.9 cm. © Richard Learoyd. Courtesy of the artist and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco.