Jorge Molder

Centro Português de Fotografia

Porto’s new photography center was inaugurated this spring with an exhibition of the series “Anatomy and Boxing,” 1996–97, several dozen large-format gelatin-silver prints by the provocative young Portuguese photographer Jorge Molder. All of the works depict the artist’s own face against a stark black background, but they should not be considered conventional self-portraits any more than Cindy Sherman’s “Untitled Film Stills,” 1977–80. Rather, these stylized photographs (which some have compared to paintings by Francis Bacon) explore the expressive limits of the human face as it is cast in shadow, pressed against flat surfaces, or deformed by the grimaces that attend bodily exertion.

Molder’s photographs transcend the notion of the photogenic by representing what is usually unrepresentable, transforming a face into a screen, a support, or a stage. In these images, various dramatic effects pass across the artist’s visage, transfiguring his features and causing him to become, as he puts it, “a character who is not entirely myself.” Expressionistic rather than impressionistic, the photographs recall Pina Bausch’s “dance-theater” or Kazuo Ono’s Noh performances—Molder systematically dismantles conventional codes of behavior to reveal aspects of the personality ordinarily buried in the unconscious. Much like Ono, he treats the qualities that are brought to light not as expressions of individuality but as universal archetypes; and the simpler these manifestations seem, the more powerful they are.

Molder’s photographs also recall Ono’s performances in that at some point his face ceases to be a face, becoming instead a theater of microscopic occurrences. In addition—although the end result is very different—his photographs can be said to resemble John Coplans’ self-portraits, because the extraordinary degree of scrutiny to which he subjects his body carries the images far beyond mere documentary photography. As Molder himself has remarked, “Anatomy and Boxing” walks a narrow tightrope between “realism and tragedy.”

Bernardo Pinto de Almeida

Translated from the Portuguese by Sheila Glaser.