The photobook Day For Night brings the viewer uncomfortably close to himself. The British artist Richard Learoyd (1966) shows a duality of intimacy and isolation through a wide range of colour studio images. Each of Learoyd’s unique portraits are born from the tradition of the simply and directly composed paintings of the Dutch Masters, such as Rembrandt van Rijn and Vincent van Gogh, which he has captured in modern aesthetics.
Day For Night offers a comprehensive collection of Learoyd’s work from 2003 till the present, including mostly portraits, though also including a handful of detail photographs and exquisite still lifes. The characters in Learoyd’s photography show an image of lifelessness, skirting the thin line between a sense of connection and distance. In one image, Learoyd shows two magpies, lifeless, caught and tangled together in black strings. The vulnerability of the bird communicates silence and cession, compounded by the cold blue and grey tones.
The subjects are portrayed with the thinnest plane of focus. The nude young woman in one of Learoyd’s photographs turns away with her body as well as her eyes, facing towards the ground with her arms around her waist. It feels as if we — the viewers — are observing her without her being aware of it; she appears completely turned inward. Her nudity, which reveals all her blemishes, stretch marks, moles, spots and bruises, emphasises her vulnerability.
Learoyd’s portraits question the ability of the viewer to truly know another person. The closeness people crave from others, even in photographs, is always thwarted. With 160 images spread over 328 pages, the images are surrounded by a large amount of whitespace, creating moments of rest and reflection; you take the time to look at each photograph and to read it, which fits well with these nature of these images. With this in mind, the book format provides a good pace for viewing Learoyd’s work: the internet might be too fast for these fragile and tacit visuals.