Above is a selection from both a project and some ongoing experiments by Rhodri Brooks, that aim to explore the performative aspect of portraiture. The sculpture series in which his sitters wear haphazard piles of objects on their heads is a beguiling play on the immanence of a transition from the freedoms of youth into the responsibilities of adulthood, but beyond its obvious and winning sense of play there is a subtle but affecting undercurrent of morbidity in the portraits. The elaborate theatricality of the sculptures conceals a pervasive sense of unease in the sitters, and in fact distracts from the way in which each sitter looks out of the frame toward a world and a future for which their present circumstance holds little hope. In a sense the elaborate styling of Rhodri’s subjects is a kind of disfiguring, inasmuch as they have been weighted down and dressed up but evince no outward signs of joy so much as anxiety. We might well take that anxiety to be trivial, were we not aware of our present circumstances.
The other images of sitters wearing stockings on their heads take this experiment with theatricality to a further extreme, one in which the direction of the subjects by the photographer not only subordinates them but physically disfigures them – conceals their faces in a way that is surprising beautiful but no less troubling all the same. It would be churlish to dismiss anxiety in an individual solely because of their relative youth, and the fact that these images are plainly and unabashedly staged might encourage no other response than amusement at the rhetorical flourish of the photographs. But there is at present and has been for some time a higher level of uncertainty about the future for many of us than in a great many years, and these photographs manage to allude to that fact in a witty and original way.
Rhodri has collected his sculpture portraits into a book entitled “Portraits of people balancing things on their head“, which is available for purchase here.