We asked Chris Boot, executive director of Aperture Foundation, to tell us about a picture that meant something to him, and why.
I encountered this 1977 portrait of Wilbert Hines in an exhibition of George Dureau’s photographs at the Photographers’ Gallery in London in 1983. It was one of several formal, nude portraits of physically disabled men, some black, some white, included in the series. At the time I was a ‘representation activist,’ interested in the art of photography only parenthetically, exercised rather by the issues the photographs raised. The argument boiled down to whether they negatively objectified black and disabled men. Like others, I found the work challenging. The Photographers’ Gallery showed the work at the same time as the London show of Robert Mapplethorpe’s black male nudes, at the ICA, and Man in a Polyester Suit—a picture about objectification, surely—ultimately stole the debate.
I didn’t consider this picture again until Higher Pictures’ exhibition of Dureau’s work last year. It still has the power to surprise, but what’s so striking now is just how fresh, timeless, and beautiful Dureau’s portraits are. And how assured, and defiant, their transgression seems, in their direct confrontation of subject with viewer—voyeuristic for sure, but on their subjects’ terms. Seeing this picture today prompts me to think my mind small, 30 years ago, unable to see beyond the issues, engaged with Dureau’s subjects as types rather than people. I look with less caution now. And, through the prism of an artist unbound by the conventions of his time, see Wilbert Hines for the first time.