Paris Opera Project 1990/91, Bill Henson
Paris Opera Project, 1990/91
From a series of 50 type C photographs.
Bill Henson’s work is a compelling blend of romantic fulfillment and melancholic uncertainty. The images he composes resonates with a profound sense of truth and finitude but the stories are never fully told and we are inevitably left in suspense as if something, it seems, is always about to happen. His mysterious roads are which lead not to a horizon but to a seductive infinity are fraught with dubious premise.
Henson’s compelling images invoke the descriptive powers of two words of contradictory allusion and sentiment: baroque and brooding. The former, with connotations of grandeur and opulence, the latter evoking moods of silence, introspection and certain subversion, capture the beguiling yet unsettling invitations that echo through Henson’s work. One of the problems with photography is that we tend to assume the photograph to be reality, to be tangible proof of the real thus have an authority that transcends the options of the interpretive. Bill Henson’s worlds are real, just as they are disturbingly beautiful, but they are also beyond the usual realms of commonplace. Of course Bill Henson deals with images but in his handling of body, light, shadow and texture he is far more a creator than mere recorder of images and experiences. His works are paintings in all but technique. Perhaps that is why, for all our recognition of both content and intent, we remain essentially as observers, or more truthfully voyeurs, of his dramas. They invite us to enjoin but we are unable to properly step into the frame.
The exhibition commissioned by the Paris Opera was a fuller development for Henson in both his use of colour and in the way he presents human faces in interplay through the convention , the framing device, of the face intent on music: whether in apprehension or indifference, or with inscrutable self possession. Watching faces, lit from below, sit in a half light that suggests that the only illumination comes from the stage and what these faces suggest is always a revelation of some inwardness before the event: the musical drama unfolding in-front of our eyes. The drama of portraiture in repose is itself intensely dramatic and Henson has done wonders to make his camera suggest the gradations and modulations of a painterly apprehension. It is a drama full of shadows and chiaroscuro, of Rembrandtian depths of brown and gold and the blackest green.