Missing image

© The Artist's Estate


Keith Arnatt (1930 – 2008)


38.1 X 30.5 CM
Accession number


This work comes from a series Visitors. The portraits are of visitors to Tintern Abbey near his then home in Monmouthshire in Wales. This series follows on from a project Arnatt had undertaken for the exhibition ‘The New Art’ shown at the Hayward Gallery, London in 1972 where Arnatt had commissioned portraits of the gallery attendants to hang in the gallery (guarded by the attendants) as his contribution to the exhibition. The self-reverential character of this idea relates it to the ‘conceptual’ or ‘idea’ art, but the project also served to re-kindle Arnatt’s early interest in portraiture. Tintern Abbey is a Cistercian abbey on the river Wye, painted by J M W Turner, and a popular location for a ‘day out’; it is visited annually by thousands of people for whom photographic record is an accepted convention and here Arnatt borrowed this photographic approach for his own ends. The idea behind the series was not one of documentary, as the viewer is left none the wiser about the background of subject, but rather the way in which people present themselves to the camera and this work can be read as that brief encounter between photographer and subject. Arnatt chose to photograph his subjects in pairs, hoping in this way they would more easily agree accept his invitation. The strategy was initially pragmatic, but it also provided the character and surpassing interest of the resulting set of images. From the hundreds of photographs, the artist selected a group of portraits which share a playful enjoyment of resemblances and incongruities among the companions pictured. By juxtaposition and comparison Arnatt’s pictures transcend the interest of their original subject matter, coming together as a coherent visual group, a celebration of those visual accidents which make photographic images memorable.

Photography as Medium, The British Council 1981