Monday, 3 June 2019

The Kuenssberg Letter

Laura Kuenssberg, House of Westminster, London © Richard Ansett 2019
The portrait of Laura Kuenssberg was called in for a curatorial meeting of the National Portrait Gallery and initially not accepted into the permanent collection. It was called in again unusually for a second view but with a request to see other frames from the shoot. See below my response*. The email was read to the committee.

I am very grateful that the curatorial committee is considering my portrait of Laura Kuenssberg at Parliament. I am always honoured that my work is regarded worthy of even a conversation at such a level.

This portrait was taken at the height of the Brexit tensions and it was synchronistic that dark clouds moved across the sky as we shot her. The House of Westminster looms as a forbidding silhouette and nods to my own fascination with Monet’s representation from the other side of the river. The clouds are a classic pathetic fallacy of course and the flare from the additional flash light, hints at the scrutiny with which we observe and judge her as journalist and 'woman'. Whilst the setting is staged, she is caught slightly off guard as she adjusts her microphone revealing a glimpse of her guile.

Not only is Kuennsberg a great journalist but she is also the first woman political editor of the BBC and inevitably worthy of a place in the archive irrespective of which facsimile is chosen. She has the job of unravelling the complexities of the political class and presents this back to us. She must play an artful game in negotiating with people skilled at sophistry and avoidance.

What I might consider great portraiture possesses the emotional moment as priority stolen from an otherwise collaborative process inspired by the greats of portraiture, especially my own heroes Irvin Penn and Bill Brandt who I fear one lifetime is not enough for me to ever emulate. A portrait of any lasting value must represent something of the person beyond a flattering likeness and there is a line to be walked between the complicity of the subject and their collaboration in the portrait process. As 'subject' we are submitting to the risk of being exposed and scrutinised in a more exploratory way. In my work I seek to discover something in the moment that represents the subject beyond just flattering likeness and this I suggest may be at odds with tradition of objectification that accompanies the photography of women 'as beautiful' first

This lone image for your consideration prioritises the examination of her as interpreter of the Machiavellian but I do consider it not to be unkind or unflattering but indeed beautiful. There is a discussion to be had re. contemporary feminist representation and whether we should continue to interpret our modern, successful, powerful women figures primarily through the lens of aesthetic stereotypes that have defined portraits of women in the past.

Very best and kindest regards,

*slightly re-worked from the original text for the purposes of the blog

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