Richard Learoyd and His Impeccable, Old-Style Photos Arrive at Pace/MacGill

Richard Learoyd’s sumptuous photographs currently grace the walls of Pace/MacGill Gallery in New York. The show—a celebration of the gallery’s new representation of the British artist—features his work from the past decade, though the techniques he uses are far older.

Intentionally out-of-step with the 21st century, Learoyd produces his color and black-and-white prints without the use of film or digital technology. Instead, he works with historical photographic methods. He also looks to history for inspiration. His mid- to large-scale portraits, nudes, still lifes, and landscapes are shaped by his interest in 19th- and 20th-century figure and landscape paintings and by the tradition of vanitas paintings.

To make the color images included in this show, Learoyd works with a camera obscura he built himself. This darkened chamber holds a sheet of light-sensitive paper, which is exposed when a lens directs light from a brightly lit second chamber, where the artist places his subjects. For his black-and-white images, he uses paper negative and contact printing processes invented by the pioneering polymath and early photographer William Henry Fox Talbot.

These methods result in prints like Hare 1 (2012), an image so finely detailed it seems as if the animal is breathing. Another print, Yosef (2008), features a shirtless man seated on a low stool. His face, directed downward, bears a pensive expression that’s difficult to discern. More telling, perhaps, are the numerous tattoos marking his back and arms; their varied designs, legible in great detail in this exquisite print, reflect his past and personality.

“The pictures are about extending the duration of looking,” Learoyd has said. “I want them to frustrate our desire to instantly understand a photographic representation of a person.” Indeed, his elegant portraits prove there’s still tremendous power in old methods and the slow reveal. 


—Karen Kedmey


Richard Learoyd” is on view at Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York, Apr. 1–30, 2016.

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