In Portraits 1979-1989 Leon Borensztein introduces us to slices of American life on its Californian frontier. He riffs on the dread family portrait, those awkward, over-staged records that make everyone but the sentimental instigator wince as they pass it, before the horror finds its was way from hall to dining room to attic. Borensztein took his pictures in the subjects’ homes. They should be at ease, relaxed in their own space, but stick a plain backdrop behind them and instruct them to stand still and not smile, and you achieve something more essential and authentic. Rid of cookie-cutter grins, grandiose pouts and oily gurns, we get to see the person and the photographer’s affection for them.
The subjects come across as approachable, every day and human-sized. You see worry, anxiety, love, warmth, humor – get a load of that outstanding picture above of the young beauty prince and try not to smile – and, given the nature of portraiture, a desire to be seen.