Monday, 21 February 2011


Andre Kertesz: Butcher at Les Halles, 1927
 Andre Kertesz, eds Michel Frizot / Annie-Laure Wanaverbecq, Editions Hazan/Jeu de Paume, 2010

Irving Penn: Boucher, Paris, 1950
Irving Penn Small Trades, eds Virgina A. Heckert / Anne Lacoste, Getty Publications, 2009

Irving Penn: Meat Carrier and Boner (A), London, 1950
Irving Penn Small Trades, eds Virgina A. Heckert / Anne Lacoste, Getty Publications, 2009

Richard Avedon: Blue Cloud Wright, slaughterhouse worker, Omaha Nebraska, 8/10/79
In the American West, Richard Avedon, Harry N. Abrams, 1985

Andres Serrano: Josef Hlavinka, Butcher, 2003
America and Other Work, Andres Serrano, Taschen, 2004

Charles Freger: Boucher, Bleus de travail, 2002-2003
Image Makers, Image Takers, ed Anne-Celine Jaeger, Thames & Hudson, 2007

Our response to the food we eat is not only mediated by images of the food itself but also by those involved in the modes and means of production, the players who deliver from farm to fork. The images included here give an overview of the way artists have portrayed workers in the meat industry and reveal a visceral fascination.

Kertesz presents an almost contradictory image, with his butcher depicted as a found object, the worker in situ - in his natural surroundings, a documentary typology, the "straight up" giving the viewer the sense of an honest portrayal, that any mediation of the artist is limited but the pose and stance of the butcher indicate a strong, directorial hand.

Penn and Avedon, however are locked into their primary metier as fashion photographers. Their intent may be in documenting real people but their stylistic quality is imbued with a fashion sensibility. By relocating their subjects away from their own environment, by stripping them of their context and replacing them in the artifice of the studio set up, these butchers, bone men, slaughterhouse workers become something greater than the visual representation of the work they do.

Penn utilises the same visual props, lighting, backdrop, camera, for these Small Trades as he does for his celebrity or fashion portraits - highly stylised - posed and preened. But he is keen to differentiate and reaffirm national stereotypes, the French boucher as opposed to the English meat carrier - the flamboyantly louche and stylishly tied apron and neckerchief in contrast to the conservative, stark functionality of the apron and tie.

Avedon raises the intensity further. By naming his subject, Blue Cloud Wright, he signals further links - a descendant of the true American West, authenticity and otherness. This blood soaked man with his hands hanging by his sides - is he ready to draw his tools in defense or are his empty palms a sign of supplication? The intensity of the mediation lifts the subject matter beyond representation creating the monumental, the unforgettable.

Serrano, although dealing in more typologies lends an air of kitsch through his use of highly saturated colours. The white coat with daubings of blood and the far off gaze, creates degrees of separation that lead the viewer to question the veracity of the real identity of this man - are we even meant to believe he is a butcher?

Freger has a hybridity of style which feels the least interventionist - the neutral background, the easy relaxed expression lend an air of authenticity to his subject.

With special thanks to Edward Barber - "Neutral Territory" talk at The National Portrait Galley, Symposium: Irving Penn Portraits.

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