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Portrait Assortment

Reflections on portraiture

‘Is this one of yours?’ David Combe still remembers reading the letter from his father in early 1969. Like every soldier serving in Vietnam, he valued any missive from home. This one included a newspaper cutting from the front page of The Australian, featuring a photograph of an elderly Vietnamese woman receiving an injection from an Australian soldier. Combe’s father had kept close tabs on any photographs coming out of the conflict where his son was serving as a photographer with the Army’s Directorate of Public Relations (DPR). As it turned out, this was indeed one captured by the young Sergeant Combe.

French film director Claire Denis slowed manhood to machine rhythm in her 1999 movie Beau travail (good work). This was the dreamlike story of life in the French Foreign Legion, in Africa, under the heat haze of an indifferent sun and glare of an impassive sea. Stripped to the waist, the bodies of her male actors lost their individuality. They were joined together in endless exercise drill tempo. Here were persons isolated, together.

Director Brady Corbet calls Vox Lux a 21st century portrait, as did artists Douglas Gordon and Philippe Parreno in their portrayal of star French footballer Zinédine Zidane.

The famed nineteenth century French tightrope walker and aerial acrobat, Charles Blondin, born Jean Francoix Gravelet (1824–1897), was known for thrilling audiences world-wide with his acrobatic feats. The ‘crazy, bearded little Frenchman’ is said to have crossed Niagara Gorge on over 300 occasions, at first performing simple crossings then amazing onlookers with increasingly bizarre and challenging stunts. Renowned for being the cleverest and most venturesome of his profession, Blondin’s feats were said to be too skilful and required courage beyond the limits of his imitators. His first crossing of Niagara Falls in 1859 startled the thousands of onlookers who witnessed the event, so much so that his stunt was spoken about for generations to come. Such was his confidence that he even offered to carry Albert, Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) across Niagara Falls while the Prince was on an official visit to Canada. His Royal Highness, needless to say, declined the invitation.