Life and Death Masks: The death mask is a cast made of a person’s face at the moment of death; it is claimed that a person reveals his true face then. If the person is alive, the mask is termed a life mask. The series is viewable in Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek’s exhibition catalogue, ‘Register’ (2001).
For several years, Torben Eskerod has managed to get under the skin of widely different human types through his camera lens. His preferred genre is portraiture, which he is able to make vivid and attentive to an unusual extent. Eskerod seems to be motivated by an interest in the individual’s singularities and distinguishing features; it is the very personality of the portrayed persons that burns itself onto the camera lens and is communicated unfiltered to the viewer.
Characteristic of Eskerod’s works is his cogent, minimalistic and technically sharp working method, which is also present, for instance, in the works of German artist Thomas Ruff. Eskerod employs relatively few artistic effects and a toned down scenography. The persons in the pictures are really just there in front of the camera. Nothing occurs. Nevertheless, the pictures are replete with atmosphere and brash presence.
In 1997, Eskerod won the Danish Ministry of Culture’s Photographic Book Prize for his collection of three of his portrait series—Prayer, Equivalence and Spiritus Sanctus—revealing his field of interest: existential questions about life and death. The persons in the black and white photographs are almost religiously spiritual, thus anchoring them in a world beyond this one.
This spiritual dimension is also implicitly present in Eskerod’s latest series, Friends and Strangers, 2006. The series of pictures of men between the age of forty and fifty is, fundamentally speaking, about identity as well as our own lives, but also, more specifically, about masculinity. Looking straight into the camera, the men are shot in colour. Eskerod simply lets them sit there, for a long time. The story tells itself; their lived life is gradually taking shape—the story of an inner life imperceptibly becoming the viewer’s life too. It is not that the viewer necessarily identifies himself with the persons portrayed, though, but the raw presence inevitably creates the disassociated viewer’s own narrative.
The relationship between the facial expression and the soul stands out clearly in Eskerod’s photographs. Eskerod’s focus is not on the individual’s appearance in itself. In his pictures, we sense that our inner self is reflected in our eye; we are admitted, through a person’s eye, to the essence underneath—in that sense, the photograph functions as the link, or the intermediary, between the outer and the inner.
By Anna Krogh, Curator and Assistant Director at Kunsthallen Brandts, Denmark
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