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    Portraiture and horror: faces of war

    Biernoff, Suzannah (2011) Portraiture and horror: faces of war. In: 37th AAH Annual Conference, 2011, University of Warwick, Warwick, UK. (Unpublished)

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    This paper compares the portrayal of facial injury during the First World War to contemporary photographs of veterans injured in Iraq and Afghanistan. One of the most poignant innovations of the Great War was the production of portrait masks for severely disfigured servicemen: the surgical ‘failures’. In London and Paris, professional sculptors were responsible for the provision of these delicate masks, and their results are recorded in the photographs of British home front photographer Horace Nicholls and in a silent film of Anna Coleman Ladd at work in her American Red Cross studio in Paris. Both sources document the artistry of prosthetic repair, and Nicholls’ images dramatize the psychological impact of facial mutilation – regarded by many to be the most dehumanizing of injuries. Paradoxically, though, the juxtaposition of human face and portrait mask disturbs the equation of identity and appearance on which traditional portraiture depends. Given the professed ‘death of the portrait,’ one might expect a different treatment of disfigurement today; a loosening of the conviction that appearance and identity are relatively fixed; a more dispersed conception of personhood. Images from recent conflicts do not bear this out, however, and the representation of disfigured veterans (indeed, disfigurement of any sort) in the press and popular culture remains convention-bound. We will look at the work of two contemporary photographers, Nina Berman (American) and Stuart Griffiths (British), whose portraits of veterans challenge the usual narratives of sacrifice, courage and redemption – including the fantasy of repair.


    Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
    School: Birkbeck Schools and Departments > School of Arts > History of Art
    Research Centre: Gender and Sexuality, Birkbeck (BiGS), Social Research, Birkbeck Institute for (BISR)
    Depositing User: Sarah Hall
    Date Deposited: 01 Oct 2013 14:03
    Last Modified: 12 Dec 2016 09:15


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