Francis Bacon: Photography Display

  • Print

Photography played a central role in Francis Bacon’s practice and almost one quarter of the material found in his studio was of a photographic nature. Although Bacon’s relationship with the medium was somewhat conflicted study of the studio material has revealed photography to be a fertile source of inspiration for the artist. Bacon preferred to work from photographs as opposed to the live model as he found the physical presence of his sitters to be detrimental to the act of portrait painting, a process he described as ‘practising an injury’. Photography was a means to study the world in more detail and convey its essence more vividly. The images that Bacon amassed of friends and lovers became surrogates for the live model and crucial aids in the completion of his figurative works.

Although Bacon disliked his own physical appearance, he did not shirk from the camera’s gaze. Shown here are portraits by Michael Holtz, Jane Bown as well as an image by J. S Lewinski which shows Francis Bacon sitting in his Reece Mews studio with his painting 'Seated Figure, 1961' superimposed on the interior. When Bacon took charge of the lens himself he did so not with an eye to mastering the craft but rather as a means of preparatory planning for paintings. He staged shoots to provoke certain poses in anticipation of their transferral onto the canvas. This can be seen in an image of Peter Lacy standing beside a table in which the ordered backdrop and the formally posed stance are suggestive of an aid to a future composition as well as being indicative of Bacon’s visual taste. Bacon even embraced the humble photobooth as its inherent nature allowed for the adoption of varied expressions and postures as well as suggesting that portraiture should be a plural rather than a singular phenomenon. The strip-like aesthetic of the photobooth is reproduced in canvases such as 'Four Studies for a Self-Portrait 1967'.

Bacon’s host of images, much like his painted portraits, were often submitted to a series of deconstructions and mutations. Many were torn, folded, painted on and amalgamated as a means of preparatory planning or to tease out a specific composition. Even when images were literally falling apart they were frequently salvaged often by mounting on cardboard or by the addition of paperclips. By means of the cut and tear Bacon extended the photographic act of framing and editing and as imagery became altered the artist believed them to take on another significance.

Bacon accumulated many books on photography which covered a wide swath of subjects. These included milestones in the history of the medium such as 'Fox Talbot and the Invention of Photography' and Barthes’ seminal 'Camera Lucida'. Yet among the books that Bacon possessed on the subject of photography no other could claim to have had such a definitive influence on him as Eadweard Muybride’s 'The Human Figure in Motion'. Five copies were found in his studio and for Bacon they presented a veritable visual dictionary of human movement.

Bacon equally kept abreast with contemporary photography and as a testament to his photographic connoisseurship he even owned a copy of the short-lived British magazine 'Album' which only ran for twelve issues.

Display selected by Sarah Allen.