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Cecilia Järdemar

PhD Work

Photography and the Face: the Quest to Capture the Contained

During the last few years a multitude of publications and exhibitions on photography both in Britain and elsewhere has taken The Face as its theme. The majority focus on what the photographic print can/cannot say about character and psychological state, but neglect the actual process of artistic creation, despite its great intrinsic interest. My research is aiming to add a new, necessary perspective to the contemporary debate regarding photographic portraiture: what the photograph of a face can possibly communicate, how the dynamics of a face-to-face meeting are necessarily altered by the inclusion of a camera and how these affect the resulting image.

In a society in which face transplants are increasingly within reach, and the photographically reproduced human face is incessantly used as an implement of communication and manipulation, the conflict between our inner and outer selves occupies a prominent position. It is appropriate to think about the face as a powerful means of non-linguistic communication, the surface through which we attempt to make sense of other humans. All my sitters are approached as they go about prosaic moments in their day-to-day lives, but the work is produced in collaboration; there is no catching the subjects unaware, but rather a decided moment, agreed upon between the sitter and myself.

Alongside my practice I am undertaking a qualitative study of the construction of the photographic portrait, using two-way video recordings, interviews and image analysis. Photography has since its inception been used as an instrument of enquiry into the human psyche. Despite the fact that many no longer believe in the existence of a unified soul that a portrait can aspire to make manifest, the search for the contained continues. I would like to query the tendency of contemporary artists to replace attempts at evoking the soul of the subject with a desire to depict temporary psychological states, while considering what might be an appropriate ambition for the portrait after the so-called death of portraiture.


  • PhD


    School of Humanities


    Critical & Historical Studies, 2005–2016

  • Swedish artist Cecilia Järdemar studied Photography at the Royal College of Art and at Falmouth University.

    Her photographic and video work has been shown and published internationally, with recent group shows including Sweden, USA, Israel, Mexico and Germany. She regularly takes part in international residency programs, and in 2008 she will be a guest of 7.Stock in Dresden. This autumn saw the publication of her essay 'Unspeakable Faces' in a catalogue on the work of John Stezaker.