It not only gives a new perspective on the work of many of the greatest names in the history of photography but also tells us something new about ourselves with all the associated nuances of memory, wit, eroticism, fear, grief and horror.
The photographs have a common theme – the gaze of the subject is averted, the face obscured or the eyes firmly closed. They range from André Breton’s self-portrait to Ruth Snyder in the electric chair in 1928 and from Weegee’s multi-image portrait of Andy Warhol in sunglasses to Robert Mapplethorpe’s photograph of the artist Alice Neel. The images present a catalogue of anti-portraiture, characterized at first glance by what its subjects conceal, not by what the camera reveals.
The author has gathered the images over many years and his selection includes not only many works by famous practitioners from across the history of the medium – Nadar, Brassaï, Walker Evans, Philip Jones Griffiths, Annie Leibovitz, Martin Parr – but also photographs of strange origin taken by anonymous figures from the mid-nineteenth century to the present day.
Running through the book is a commentary which offers the author's own intense and perceptive responses to the images, as well as insights into the psychology of collecting. William A. Ewing, the distinguished curator of photography, contributes an introduction.