Tom Butler’s faces


Tom Butler, Talbot, 2010

As a collector of Victorian-era studio portraits, Cartes-de-Visites, Cabinet prints and the like, the work of English artist Tom Butler has an interest for me. He takes these relics of early photography, well-crafted but fairly generic portraits of now anonymous folk. They come from the 1860s on when the visiting card photograph (Cartes-de-Visite) became a phenomenon, making the photographic likeness cheap enough for the masses.

I certainly couldn’t do what Butler does – alter or disfigure a 19th century photograph, but I’m glad he has done what he has. There are plenty of such photographs around and they don’t have much monetary value. His little intercessions are surreal, humorous, occasionally twee but mostly interesting.

For the last four years I have been appropriating anonymous photographs … with incorporated personal symbols such as hair, hoods and masks painted on the surface with gouache. In the process I attempt to reveal aspects of imagined inner personalities of the sitter while entirely in the knowledge that I am cloaking them with parts of myself.


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