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Howard M. Christopherson / Faces of the Dead

Icebox Gallery presents: Howard M. Christopherson’s exhibit Faces of the Dead. This debut exhibit contains photographic portraits made from the tomb portraits found on 18th and 19th century graves in the Cimitero Del Verano in Rome, Italy. The early portraits are paintings that date back to circa 1804 then replaced in the 19th century when people commissioned black and white photography to become the final record of the appearance of the deceased. Christopherson made close up and cropped images of the weathered and aged likenesses of Rome’s well to do buried within its largest Catholic cemetery. Concentrating on the graves between 1804 and the early 20th century Christopherson’s new photographic portraits become anonymous and nameless. Each intimate color print in this portfolio is uniquely saturated with polyurethane. This unusual application gives each it’s own subtle surface affects caused by separation, mottling and yellowing.

Howard M. Christopherson has been exploring portrait photography for many years in traditional and alternative ways. He has created portraits of people in B/W and color in several different places around the world. His search for alternative portraits has led him to unusual subjects like statues, television captures, mannequins, reflections, manipulations and even drawings in the sand. In 2010 Christopherson exhibited “Dolls”, a series of close up portraits of one woman’s collection of porcelain-headed dolls. Each doll was carefully photographed in natural light, in the same way a person would be, giving each portrait an eerie affect.

“When I bought my very first quality SLR camera back in 1974, that was a special day. The first place I photographed was Lakewood Cemetery in Minneapolis, Minnesota. I already had an appreciation for the large ornate granite and marble monuments found there. Since that time I have photographed many graveyards in the United States, Mexico, England, Ecuador, Peru, Japan, Italy and Hungary. My interest increases with each visit. Cemeteries are like a park or a sculpture garden filled with artwork and mysterious clues to the past.” -HMC

In this series, Faces of the Dead, Christopherson has incorporated Polyurethane over archival inkjet prints on rag paper. This coating process gives each print a unique surface appearance that works well given the subject matter. The original cracked and chipped paintings have many surface flaws. He became aware of the unique way that polyurethane reacts if applied to an inkjet print on cotton rag. Something to do with the ink causes the polyurethane to separate into each crack, or sometimes along lines, giving each image an uneven sheen reminiscent of the original tomb portrait. Since the original portraits are exposed to the elements and decay, Christopherson’s images give new life to something vulnerable, fragile and fleeting. Each of these “re-portraits” of a tomb portrait is now made public in a completely new context; anonymous, displayed in an art gallery and published on line.

“When I created these images it seemed no different than if I photographed a live person on the street. The reasons that I selected, photographed and cropped each tomb portrait was for the same reasons. I choose to photograph a person on the street because they have interesting features, clothing and personality. When creating this body of work It felt as if I was making photographic portraits in a different lifetime than my own.” -HMC

Howard M. Christopherson is the founder and owner of Icebox Quality Framing and Gallery, now in it’s 23rd year in NE Minneapolis. He has been exhibiting his photography professionally since 1985 in the U.S., Japan and Italy. He has created several self-published books and organizes annual summer photography workshops in South Dakota. Christopherson spent one month doing photography in residence in Budapest, Hungary . Most recently Christopherson was a recipient of an Artist Initiative Grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board for work done in 2010 and he had a solo exhibit of his B/W portraits at the Wave Photo Gallery in Brescia, Italy in July 2010.

Actual Images: Polyurethane over a Digital Inkjet on Rag.

Link here to a Related Portfolio "Angels and Death"

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