Greenfield-Sanders is well known for his candid portraits of larger-than-life personalities. From porn stars to presidents, Oscar-winning actors to accomplished authors, the photographer renders even the most calculated persona quite bare – he has a knack for making photographs that reframe people we think we know, capturing a facet of a subject that surprises or that deflates viewers’ prior assumptions. In front of his lens, comedians refrain from guffawing, actors stand still, disarmed.
Each portrait in the List series shares certain formal elements. Each subject is positioned in front of a gray background, with a single key light illuminating the right side of their faces, and for the most part, each person’s face is relaxed, allowing a certain honesty that our expressions sometimes obscure. Poses are unaffected – hands are in pockets, arms are crossed, hips are resting on one side. With each photograph treated largely the same, the differences then become quite apparent –the viewer’s focus becomes reading the unique person on display. Who are they, really?
‘A great portrait does so much more than merely capture its subject,’ Wallis Annenberg, Chairman, President and CEO of the Annenberg Foundation, said of the exhibition. ‘It gives us a glimpse into the subject’s humanity, sometimes even a window into the soul.’
The List project began a decade ago when Greenfield-Sanders was photographing Nobel laureate Toni Morrison for Margaret Garner, an opera she had written. ‘During lunch, we discussed the extraordinary number of black divas who auditioned for the production,’ Greenfield-Sanders recalls. ‘‘Timothy,’ she said, ‘You should shoot portraits of black divas for a book. I’ll write the text.’’
What began as The Black List evolved to a more sprawling examination of identity that’s been featured in multiple HBO Documentary Films. It is now a collection that spans 151 interviews and photography portraits, eight documentaries, four books, 13 solo museum exhibitions, two museum catalogs, and an educational initiative at schools and universities.
The strength of The List exhibition is in getting to know each other – considering how we differ, and what, after all, unites us.
The Trans List will debut as an HBO Documentary Film on December 5, 2016.
IDENTITY: Timothy Greenfield-Sanders The List Portraits will be on view at The Annenberg through February 2017.