The Averted Portrait

Corina Gertz

Between August Sander and Vermeer

– People turned away from the viewer
– Faceless portraits
– Barely recognisable

Taking pictures of people without getting too close to them – capturing identity, depicting who the person is, and honouring how she chooses to present herself, what defines her.

In her series about Folk Costumes, the Düsseldorf-based photographer and filmmaker Corina Gertz presents women in the traditional costumes. Colour, patterns, and traditional craftsmanship – like a code, similar to a tattoo, decoration, and ornamental painting of indigenous tribes – provide information about local heritage, as well as personal and social status, and reflect identity, highlighting individuality without privileging the individual.

In a reversal of August Sander’s hard everyday realism, his series about workers and farmers, to Jan Vermeer’s paintings of self-confident bourgeois splendor.

Despite the distanced view, the darkness of the image space produces warmth and affectionate losenesso the motif. The individual’s personality thrives on the expression of her costume, and thus on her tradition – telling history, proclaiming the present.

The mode of representation respectfully presents individuals who display themselves in their regional, but individual costume, in a reserved, solemn, blissful way. The tailor-made costumes have been handed down over generations and are evidence of long-forgotten craftsmanship. The approach attains the same effect as Vermeer, by using light, focusing on the motif, and highlighting the colours sporadically – the motif becomes haptically tangible. The portrait, liberated from the face, turning away but always present, reduced to the essential, colour, surface, shape, distilled in utmost clarity and concentration, exaggerated in its own abstraction.

Text by D. W. Marschall

About the Artist

Artist Website

Corina Gertz completed her studies in fashion design, pattern making and couture tailoring, and lived in Düsseldorf, Florence, Cape Town, and Hong Kong while she created collections for international companies e.g. Roberto Cavalli, Ton Sur Ton, Isabel de Mestre….

As a photographer and fashion designer, Corina Gertz is fully aware of the significance of clothing and fashion as a means of nonverbal communication. Her series develop while travelling widely and reflect her passion for the colourful diversities and cultural particularities of our contemporary world. Her photographs have been exhibited in international museums, including the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, the Museo delle Culture del Mondo in Genoa, and the Bendigo Art Gallery in Victoria, Australia.

Identity plays a central role in the portrait series Traditional Costume by the Düsseldorf-based artist Corina Gertz, whereby we are dealing here less with individuals than with an affiliation to a particular geographic region. The persons depicted are thus merely surrogates. What is more, the people
portrayed are anonymised even further by the fact that their backs are turned to the viewer, which directs attention towards their traditional costumes as an identity conveying element.