The master and me: Fred Boissonnas and expressions
- Posted April 15, 2010 by Stefan Fletcher Viewed 4942 times
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The first image is a Boissonnas self-portrait, the one that crops up in Google searches. I don’t know when it was taken, but judging from his appearance (early middle age?), I imagine it was sometime in the 1890s.
I love the self-deprecating humour and the intelligent, almost parodying connection with what he did. The choice of a stereopticon and gaze say a lot. How many of us have photographed ourselves with our camera in some tacky, unsuccessful attempt to identify who we are with what we do? The subject’s very juxtaposition with the tools of his trade belies any pretentious claim to a raison d'être. Like other geniuses, he could take a step back.
What do we see in this portrait? A man in the prime of life, beginning to grey. That wire-brush hair just screams health…The taut features indicate an athletic life; the fake-dramatic pose and ears an ability to play act, perhaps even to be a drama queen. The clothes and the broad wedding ring indicate a successful man. I don’t know whether he was happily married; geniuses tend not to be. But I hope he was. I choose to ignore the moustache as a foible of his age.
Unfortunately, I have no other intimate portraits of the older man. He lived through tumultuous times. I would have liked to see him older after two World Wars.
The man liked people (you’ll see why in later posts). To like others you have to like yourself, and this is quite clear in this self-portrait. To relate with people in a foreign country with very foreign customs (Greece was the Far East of his time), you need an astonishing degree of self-confidence, self-confidence he amply demonstrated by being the first recorded mountaineer to climb Mt. Olympus.
Well, I’ll leave his self-portrait with more questions than answers, which indicates a good one. I’ll say this, though: as an amateur climber and camper, I’d say Boissonnas looks like someone you’d camp with and rely on. He seems dependable, and for those who know what I’m talking about, you know there aren’t any better compliments to make.
No. 2 is my self-portrait. I took it and kept it a year before seeing Boissonnas’. I added the others to stop this sequence of posts being a him-and-me contest (where I’d lose anyway). But look at the eyes here and think about the humour, the poise, what they’re all thinking - and then look at Boissonnas.
Can you be certain what’s behind that gaze? I can’t.
But then I can’t fathom genius. If I’m lucky, I can only appreciate and learn from it.
Without the camera, Boissonnas would look severe if not outright uptight. He knew how to take things out of context and give them a new one. And those are definitely climbers' hands.
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