Richard Learoyd‘s photographs are simply beautiful. They are pure images, singular, unadulterated pictures that invite us to examine the minutiae, the exquisite detail. These are once off pictures. There is no negative or transparency as they’re taken with a camera obscura – which literally translates as dark room – the most antiquarian of photographic processes.
All of Learoyd’s photos are a process within itself. To create his pictures Learoyd has created a room-sized camera in which the photographic paper is exposed. The subject – often a person but sometimes an object – is situated in an adjacent room separated by a lens. The light that falls on the subject is directly focused onto the photographic paper in the other room resulting in an entirely grainless image.
The overall sense of these large pictures – they’re often over 4 metres wide and high – is one of peace, a soft calmness and sensuality that is reminiscent of the Dutch masters of the 17th Century – in particular Vermeer who was able to capture the same kind of light in his paintings. However, unlike painting Learoyd focusses on the physicality of the body, the exterior, there seems to be no desire to question the inner life of his subjects while at the same time we, the viewer, are acutely aware of the emotional impact of the image itself. It’s as if he turns the picture on us. It’s not the psychology of the subject that makes these photos extraordinary it’s the image itself that bears down on our psychology that makes them unique.
Here’s what he has to say about the artistic process:
Every artist, whatever their medium, has to deal with the rules of the universe. I think the secret is to accept it and move on. For me, in my work, the implication or meaning of this shift between extreme sharpness and blur is an emerging and submerging of a person’s consciousness, and emphasis of their immediate presence.
I for one would love to see these photos in an exhibition, just to see the detail as Mark Alice Durant of the University Of Maryland says about the pictures:
As Learoyd himself has noted, except for lovers and children, we are seldom given permission or opportunity to look so closely. Single hairs become crucial, two delicate strands point toward a mouth, a minor tangle animates the space inches above the fontanel like a shy crown. Elongated fingers rest upon thin wrists, the whorls on the bottom of a foot remind us that it not only fingerprints that claim unique signatures. A freckle, a blemish, a tattoo, a laceration, the fading imprint of a recently removed undergarment; as the eye travels along the inlets, cavities and protuberances of the body we begin to let go of the nagging questions of who and instead allow ourselves to be awed by the unnamed specificity of being.