Portrait of a Man - Limited edition catalogue, 1996
This is one off of my shelves that I often reach for when the complex questions and issues of "portrait photography" present themselves, for whatever reason, and when I need to break the process of one person photographing another down to the bare roots. The Salzburg based Austrian photographer Michael Muaracher spent 15 years photographing a man whose identity has been kept secret even form Michael's closest friends. This catalogue accompanied a few exhibitions of the work in the late 90's and was published by one of the venues, the FFotogallery in Wales (strangely enough a search for the Ffotogallery will take you here, which doesn't feel right....) in 1996.
There are no dates to the images but we do know that they are presented chronological, which tells us that the documenting of "time" is an important element in the project. Except for a few of the earliest portraits, all of the images are made in front of a neutral background. This suggest that Michael didn't conceptually plan this project from day one, but may have initially been simply inspired and intrigued by "the man", later recognizing the depth and power of how the work will could possibly transcend the individual images and become much greater than the sum of it's parts. They have nothing contrived about them, though the sitter is very aware of Michael. The occasional props are merely what he would have worn to the sitting, depending on the time of year. A pair of sunglasses, a knitted hat, a scarf.
Simply the title of Monika Faber's text says so much:
"Evidence not Proof"
(August) Sander believed that the face of an individual could be representative of a group or type of people. Mauracher has no delusions. For him a photograph cannot be used as proof of anything, but rather is totally open to the viewer's own speculation. (Monika Faber)
The question of "why" to do such a project is a meaningless question, more important is to ask "why stop making such a project"? Interestingly enough, the subtitle of the book is "Photographs 1991-1996" which begs us to ask if this is simply the year in which the catalogue was made, a collection of the work to date (1996), or if the images do stop in this year. "The man" ages, obviously, 15 years in these images, but he isn't old towards the end and nor do the last images give any hint as to him passing away. This projects simply reeks of "long-term project" so keep your eyes open for (hopefully) more to come.
It is a soft bound beautifully printed 60 page book with 2 fold-out pages with triptychs. The series consists of 36 images, from (according to the text) approximately 50 sittings over the 15 years. The texts are from Ian Walker and Monika Faber. They are out there to be found and aren't very expensive yet.