Endia Beal earned her BFA from the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill and an MFA from Yale University.  Her conversation with ABOUT-FACE has been edited.  
fts Can I Touch It? 
A-FMy first exposure to your work was your series ‘Can I Touch It’, which gained wide recognition all over the web. How did it feel to see how people responded to this work?
EB: When creating the work, my ultimate goal was to begin a conversation about minority women within the corporate space. My goals were exceeded by the conversations that took place throughout social media, websites, blogs, etc. I received messages from all over the world from women and men giving their testimonies in regard to conforming and having to conform to a certain look within corporate environments. As artists, our work is usually displayed in the gallery or institution, but my first exhibit was online. I reached more people than I could have ever reached in a space designated for art.
A-F: This particular series for obvious reasons, including how you’ve discussed in recent interviews, has a comedic tone about it, but we know about the more serious personal and political associations to black women’s hair.  Can you tell us a little bit more about what you feel like you learned or gained from doing this work?
EB: Initially I did a project about my own experience as a minority woman in the corporate space.  I was a spectacle—an ‘other’. I wanted to insert myself into the conversation and have discussion about the”norm”. I thought these women would not understand how if feels to be the other in this environment. I was wrong. These women not only understood, but shared their own experiences. In particular, one woman named Desiree had to change her name for her job.  Another woman had to have someone else represent her business because of how she looked.  The idea of conformity transcends race, gender…
A-F: How do you feel your work as an artist adds to the larger discourse of identity?
EB: As minority artists, there are so many stories that haven’t been told.  If I can tell a few, even based my experiences, I have done something.  We need to get a full view, to give a voice to these invisible and unseen narratives.  These specific and personal stories are universal.
fts Can I Touch It? 
A-F: What makes a successful portrait to you?
EB: When you are able to capture the personality or energy of the person—if it can be on its own and provoke contemplation, outside of a larger series, that is when it is successful.  A portrait that has mystery, that provokes thought and questions.  



Old Baby (Woodcut)

Aleksandra Katargina is an artist, educator and current Touchstone Foundation for the Arts Youth Member Fellow.  I’ve had the pleasure of seeing several of Katargina’s works ranging from paintings to drawings, and even more recently, a woodcut portrait.  Her woodcut piece entitled Old Baby (above) is currently on view at Touchstone Gallery and is stunning for its moodiness. The subject’s gaze is piercing and evocative. Rendered using a subtractive method, Katargina carved the image into the wood, The result of this intensive act is a haunting and elegant portrayal of an enigmatic figure.  The subject possesses a mystique and it is unique. 

What stood out to me technically about the work is how Katargina deals with space.  The figure submerges into, and from, the background- and creates a sense of floating and elevation in a sea of darkness.  

A-F: What makes a successful portrait?  

AK: I believe that the hardest aspect of portraiture is not only to capture the subject’s likeness but also to instill the work with emotional impact. Every creation is filtered through the artist’s lens. When I create an image I am constantly thinking what kind of mood I want it to have. I conjure up an emotion and hold it inside while drawing/painting. Art is like a kaleidoscope. When the viewer takes a peek inside he/she is exposed to someone else’s view of the world. A successful portrait for me is not just a realistically rendered image but rather a personality/character that the artist saw in the model and sought to capture. As long as the portrait conjures an emotion whether positive or negative it is successful.


Video Portraits (Still), 2012

I had the pleasure of meeting current Hamiltonian Gallery fellow Larry Cook at Hamiltonian Gallery this past Fall.  In a small studio visit a few weeks back, Cook shared some of his past and present projects that blend still photography, video and appropriated imagery to create a conversation on the representation of black culture.  One of his most striking pieces, All American, is a triptych of portraits depicting a crypt, blood and a klansmen.    

Cook’s work incorporates a language part of the American vernacular and addresses issues specific to identity and community.  

A-F: What makes a successful portrait?
LC: What makes a successful portrait to me is based on how it pulls at you emotionally.



Igor Termenon is a photographer and video artist based in Scotland.  He has shot for publications such as Elle UK, American Apparel, Nylon, Vice and Ten Mag.  His bold, bright and eclecticly styled fashion portraiture has been published and exhibited widely, both online and in print.  A stand-out feature in Termenon’s work is that aside from accentuating the fashions, the photographs also capture the essence and mood of the models and places.  A Day in Glasgow, an on-going series, pays homage to the city he lived in between 2008 and 2009.  This series takes a personal look at the people and their favorite places in the city, often using diptychs that speak to time and place.           

I first learned about Termenon’s work through his website for contemporary photography zines Girls on Film and it’s counterpart Boys on Film, where he is editor in chief.  His curatorial eye shows that he is keen not only what is going on in fashion and art, but also the self-publishing world.  He recently published two books, Girls on Film & Boys on Film, highlighting stand-out content from recent editions of the zines.  His publications have received global press and coverage, being featured on Style.com, Elle Girl Korea, Dazed Digital and Urban Outfitter’s blog.  The zines are also a part of the Museum of Modern Art’s library archive.  Aside from being a visual artist and editor of Girls/Boys on Film, Termenon is also managing editor of Future Positive.      

A-F: What makes a successful portrait?

IT: I think what makes a successful portrait is the dialogue between the photographer and the subject. When the subject of your portrait understands what you’re looking for, it is when you get a great photograph. It’s not so much about directing, but about trying to make the person feel comfortable and relaxed in front of the camera. 

That’s what I look for as well in the photographs I select for the zine I edit, Girs/Boys on Film. I want to see that connection between the photographer and the model and know that they had a good time during the shoot.




The Wall to Wall is Calling

Heather Morgan is a painter who lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.  I was introduced to Morgan’s oeuvre by friend and fellow artist Emilia Olsen and immediately taken, struck, and even titillated, by her figurative oil paintings of women that are unforgivingly expressive in their perverse haughtiness.  Her sitters range from those she has known personally, as well as pop icons that possess a controversial, and sometimes scandalous, public persona.  

These women are fearlessly portrayed with the intent of being on complete display for the audience’s eyes.  Yet, they refrain from demure glances over their shoulders or from becoming pacified objects of desire in their lingerie.  Their gazes challenge and confront the viewer.  The subjects are posed and positioned to look at the viewer frontally in their boudoirs, in repose while drinking wine or completely falling apart while utterly owning their own decadence.  Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the work is how Morgan achieves this feeling of witnessing a spectacle.  There is a delightful unease in looking at Morgan’s overpowering portraits of women that toy with ideas and stigmas female identity.

A-F: What makes a successful portrait?

HM: Often portraiture is defined as arriving at something essential about the sitter.   I am interested in something more archetypal in portraiture, mannered qualities that explore what it means to be human, rather than the feelings or attitudes of an individual sitter.  Portraiture can draw attention to the bleaker side of life, illustrate our follies and perversions, the pains and pleasures of inhabiting a physical body.  At its best, portraiture points to our fundamental dilemma; we are existence-craving creatures, terribly aware of our impermanence.  We express this intelligence in ways both beautiful and tragic.  When you hit these notes, I can’t look away.



Untitled, 2010 

It is quite rare that photographs with immediacy and instantaneousness have such depth, vision and feel.  Even more rare is it that photographs with a snapshot aesthetic have such a distinctive style and visual language.  Looking at the work of Katherine Squier is really an experience in seeing without any pretense.  The beauty in the ordinary casualties of everyday life are rendered extraordinarily by her keen perception of a such a specific moment in time that transcends what is personal and filters out to the rest of the world to become universal.  Perhaps the greatest success of Squier’s work is that you can really see into her own world; a world characterized by warm rays of sunlight, a long Summer day’s leisure, and endless horizon lines: a photographic novella of youth fantasy and ephemera.  

Many of Squier’s portraits are of people she knows well, allowing her to get a closer and more intimate perspective of those she chooses to photograph.  She photographs herself, family and friends unguarded, and creates a visual journal that inspires the audience to look closely at the sunset on the bedroom sheets or the grandiosity of the chandelier in the dining room.  

Squier’s work proposes an interesting conversation many photographers have made of being present or absent in attempt of preserving.  On the one side, it is a general conception that making pictures can take away from an experience and make us absent in the happenings right before us.  To an extent, that can be true.  When we are too flustered with flawless technique and perfect exposures the act of recording a cherished moment can cause us to miss a time of evanescence.  Yet, Squier’s work shows that her camera is simply an extension of her eye; her self-portraits and photographs of those around her record moments that are fleeting, and not possible to attain without a willingness to be completely in the now.      

A-F: What makes a successful portrait?

KS: I think what makes a successful portrait is just when the subject is able to stay comfortable and you’re able to capture them in their natural state, when they are totally themselves in front of the lens.


Birth Of The Cool

Eric Weeks is a photographer whose work I had the pleasure of seeing in Gallery 31’s group exhibition The Indie Photobook LIbrary at the Corcoran curated by Muriel Hasbun and Susan Sterner.  His monograph World Was In The Face Of The Beloved is a book of romantic, sensual portraits of is wife, Stacy as the beloved.  From images of Stacy in the distant landscape, to up-close studies of her in the privacy of their bedroom, the photographs are always intimate and their intimacy is reverberated in book form.  Each picture is a murmuration of love and affection.  We are enchanted by the mutability of her character and graceful performance, as well as the care and attention to detail in making each photograph; a beautiful and sound collaboration.    

A-F: What makes a successful portrait?

EW: I always look to Oscar Wilde’s famous sentiment from The Picture of Dorian Gray when I think of the valuable exchange between artist and subject. 

"Every portrait that is painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist, not of the sitter. The sitter is merely the accident, the occasion. It is not he who is revealed by the painter; it is rather the painter who, on the coloured canvas, reveals himself."
For me, a successful portrait communicates what the artist has experienced in the presence of the subject, and his or her opinion of all the goings-on in front of them.



Tyler, 2011

Martin Swift is a DC based painter who creates large-scale, allegorical paintings that propose questions of gender, sexuality, childhood uncertainty, and science fiction   I discovered Swift’s work through his feature on Refinery29’s 30 Under 30 list, featuring some of the most promising young talents of the Washington, D.C.-Metropolitan area.  I had the pleasure of meeting Swift at Conner Contemporary’s Academy 2013 show, and viewing his solo exhibition Paradox of Masculinity at Above the Bike Shop, DC.

The subjects are life-size; the use of brush-strokes create a soft mood and ephemeral feeling.  I am partial to the diffused-look the paintings have.  This is also accentuated by the artist’s color palette; faded and muted oranges, greens, blues, and yellows that brings one to Impressionism.  I also appreciate that all of the men depicted do not have idealized bodies and, often, pose in ways that reflect introspection. (This feature of the work in particular keeps the nude from feeling gratuitous and adds to the naturalness and ease.)  Depicted deliberately wearing socks and shoes, Swift’s intention in painting his subjects nude is to show them in a more vulnerable state; the shoes and socks each subject wears provides just a hint of context, along with the sports equipment each is holding.    

*Paradox of Masculnity is on view at Above the Bike Shop,DC in Adams Morgan until August 22, 2013.

A-F: What makes a successful portrait?

MS: A successful portrait is able to convey more than just a superficial depiction of a subject.  A successful portrait will provide insight into the subject’s personality as well as the relationship between artist and subject.


Still From Sharrod (Turn/Twirl) (Video)

Jason Hanasik is an fine artist who is not married to one medium; his oeuvre includes photography, video and installation.  Masculine Identity and the male as a subject of study are recurring themes and features in Hanasik’s work, as seen in Sharrod (Turn/Twirl), Sharrod (Workout), He Opened Up Somewhere Along the Eastern Shore, His Past Was Always Waiting For Him In The Future and In The Green Zone

I also discovered Hanasik’s work in the Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition Exhibition at Nat’l Portait Gallery, with his video installation Sharrod (Turn/Twirl) being a stand-out.  In this piece, a young man wearing an NJROTC uniform slowly rotates in the pose of a soldier’s salutation.  The slowness in observing Sharrod move against a blank backdrop creates an intimate engagement.  The viewer picks up on the most minute details; the concentration through his eyes, his effort to keep balance in the minor movement of his small frame and the slight change of his temperament throughout the time-based piece; this gesture of movement subtly references the twirling ballerina box that many girls have on their dressers. 

A-F: What makes a successful portrait?

JHMy definition of a “successful” portrait is the same definition I use for any (visual) experience, I look for and anticipate the experience to “turn my head” and/or “recalibrate or, better yet, broaden my focus.”  Not so much from a “shock and awe” perspective but rather from a, “hmm, I have never thought about that subject, episode, experience, interaction, et cetera in that way before.”  It’s a pretty obvious definition to me now but one that actually took quite awhile for me to arrive at.

Since I think examples are always better to give than just a “dangling idea,” a perfect example of this would be Paul Graham’s “A Shimmer of Possibility.”  I see one of the subjects in that project walking around the streets of San Francisco all the time.  Prior to seeing the project, I thought about him in a very specific way but after seeing him through Graham’s lens, my world, as it understood him, changed. While this example sits squarely within the confines of an already established relationship, for me, it works without one, too.  I actually think that’s the most exciting part of working with images, the ability to upend expectations by the deployment of new possibilities.   



Ralph, Moorcroft, Wyoming, 2011

Bryan Schutmaat is a photographer based in Brooklyn, New York.  Schutmaat has spent his most recent years photographing mountain towns and mining communities of the American West.  Combining portraits with landscapes and still-lifes, Schutmaat’s series entitled Grays The Mountain Sends, illustrate the relationship of the people to the land and the legacy they have inherited.  This is a critical factor of the work; the relationship, a marriage even.  A number of still-lifes showing interiors with paintings of endless trees and mountains; A man wearing a shirt with a landscape pictured, that mirrors several landscapes of the series; wolves, deer,  bears and horses that only appear in images, instead of in the fields and forests they would ordinarily be photographed in.  There is a heaviness of shouldered nostalgia and despair, yet there also lies a bittersweet affection to the place in which they inhabit and call home.    

A-F: What makes a successful portrait?

BS: I can’t pretend to know what makes a good portrait. It’s something you sense when you see it.

Bryan Schutmaat is winner of the 2013 Aperture Portfolio Prize.