East Wing Collection, Courtauld Institute


The relationships forged between man and the camera are multiple. To the artist Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, photography embraced the scientific objectivity of the machine: “We wish to produce systematically, since it is important for life that we create new relationships”. For American photographer Robert Frank it could capture the emotive spontaneity of mans visual experience: “There is one thing the photograph must contain, the humanity of the moment”. These views represent a polarity, between the rational and the irrational, the medical and the intuitive: yet both quotes might be applied with equal validity to the work of Liz Rideal.


For the last ten years Rideal’s work has been concerned with the photographic image as produced by the photobooth. Her earlier projects collated large numbers of these photobooth prints, systematically employing them as elements in the construction of the vast photo-collages. More recently she has turned this practice on its head, focusing on the individual photobooth strip, which is then enlarged.


Self-portrait Yellow (281x 61cm) depicts four abstracted portraits of the artist set against a luscious silk backdrop. It is a photographic practice which analyses and parallels the biological process of seeing. In choosing the medium of the photo-booth portrait the artist draws our attention to a functional item usually reserved for the routine gaze of the authority figures who check passports, travel-cards or CVs.


However, Rideal’s use of stridently coloured backdrops, rather than the usual anaemic curtains of a photobooth, resonates with the symbolic association of fiery red or a pulsating yellow. It is an approach not dissimilar to that pursued by the director Krzysztof Kieslowski in his Three Colours film – an apt comparison, for Rideal enjoys the filmic element to her work. The photobooth can, of course, carry an emotional significance – for example when it is used for the exchange of likenesses between lovers, family or friends.


One could argue that the partial views of the artist in Self-portrait Yellow equal a denial of identity: yet perhaps they represent, more accurately, a Lawrencian eulogy to the beauty of the human body. Rideal presents the expressive gesture in the manner of an artist such as Franz Kline: a flick of the sitter’s hair forms the counterpart to the black, oily swathe of the painter’s brush. The comparison is apposite, for both artists have found a structure in the minutiae of nature and have felt compelled to blow it up large for all to see.


Robin Plummer, October 1996