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The Uncanny Portrait: Sander, Arbus, Samaras

IN ITS RECEPTION OF THE human face, photography increases the mystery that always results from its freezing of movement and the receding of the present of its actual images from our present. The snap of a shutter distances a real landscape or parade: these things are still “there” for us, yet cut out from everything they were once in. “Our face,” though,

is where we are. We kiss, eat, breathe and speak through it. It’s where we look, listen and smell. It is where we think of ourselves as being finally and most conclusively on show. It’s the part we hide when we are ashamed and the bit we think we lose when we are in disgrace (Jonathan Miller, “On The Face Of It,” London Sunday Times, May 24, 1966).

To look at people’s faces in still photography is, then, to look at analogues of our own—with a curiosity that must be lessened when switched to any other subject.

Who can deny that on first meeting

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