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“Muchedumbre”—Spanish for “crowd”—is a project by Jorge Brantmayer to photographically document the diversity of the Chilean people in the wake of the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. The series calls to mind August Sander’s taxonomic documentation of pre-World War II Germany, but with Richard Avedon’s visual approach of posing his subjects in front of a consistent, blank backdrop.
The series bills itself as seeking to “unveil, through detailed portraits, the untold micro-stories of each citizen photographed.” That’s a high bar—and one not fully met, at least not within the confines of the photographs.
The exhibit itself provides only skeletal information about his subjects—a name and a profession, or in some cases a name or a profession. So it’s left up to viewers to fill in the blanks.
The generic backgrounds of the portraits don’t heighten the subjects’ individuality; each offers a somewhat off-puttingly grim stare. This surely fits with the idea of the nation’s dazed, lengthy recovery from the crimes of the Pinochet era. And a few photographs show a direct connection, such as the one of Malva Hernandez holding a photograph of a young man one presumes (correctly) is her disappeared son. But the glances too often come off as unrelentingly enigmatic.
One also gets the sense that this is not a pure cross section of Chilean society. The exhibit includes a disproportionate number of students and artists. (One subject is even identified as a critico de arte, surely a sign of a skewed sample.)
That said, the artistic style and overly directorial approach doesn’t remove all individual personality from the series. Indeed, the portrayal seems admirably down-to-earth, with no sugarcoating; the large formats relentlessly depict every pore, wrinkle, pimple, facial hair, and piercing.
The exhibit is at its most powerful when viewed as a unified collection. The old truism—that the whole that is greater than the sum of its parts—certainly fits. Brantmayer’s subjects stare down on the viewer from all sides, unsmiling and silent. Almost like… a crowd.
Through Oct. 9 at the Art Museum of the Americas, 201 18th St. NW. Tues.-Sun. 10 a.m.-5 p.m.