Reveries: Photography and mortality
National Portrait Gallery, $39.95 pb, 263 pp, 0977576108
Helen Ennis’s book Reveries: Photography and mortality, published by the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra to accompany her recent exhibition, is a fascinating choice of subject for an institution that deals with portraiture. As the author notes, ‘In the face of mortality the touchstones of portraiture are gently nudged aside … to encompass the possibility of dissolution or dispersal of self.’ This expanded definition of portraiture is apparent from the cover of this sensitively designed book, which features a photograph by Ruth Maddison. Titled The beginning of absence, the photograph shows a domestic interior dissolving into light and suggests Maddison’s feelings when confronting the imminent death of her father. It is a ‘portrait’ composed not of physical detail but emotion, and is no less descriptive of a person and a relationship for that.