Tom Butler is a British artist who works with 19th century cabinet portraits, transforming them into funny, surreal or creepy images by painting on them.
Fascinated by the human desire both to hide and to perform, Tom Butler collects memories, thresholds and hiding places and attempts to re-manufacture them in a visual way. His work expresses his natural inclination towards introversion and the opposition of displaying artwork essentially about hiding.
This video on the Photographers Gallery website explains the process: http://thephotographersgallery.org.uk/tom-butler
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.