Julian Germain’s book The Face of the Century (1999) was published to mark the turn of the millennium through portraits of 100 people arranged by the year of their birth, oldest to youngest. It begins with Lizzie Hutchinson born in 1899 and finishes with newborn baby Rhiannon Germain born in 1999. The captions that accompany each portrait consist of the sitter’s name and year of birth: no more, no less, and because of this, every detail of every portrait assumes great importance. The texture of skin, choice of hairstyle or clothes and the expression assumed by each individual are magnified; as fascinating as they are ordinary. Some of the most significant details are those that resist the idea of ‘perfection’: the rain in the hair of Jodie Macdonald b. 1991; the tucked-in collar of Elizabeth Doble b. 1906; Oliver Cook’s runny nose b. 1996; Rhiannon’s calloused top lip, a detail I am especially drawn to since my eldest son had the same feature at the same age. The 100 lives of these people are bound together through the book’s pages; Germain connected them when he invited a random selection of individuals to sit for him. The Face of the Century was published twenty- three years ago, before the pervasiveness of the digital, and nevertheless retains enormous power, largely due to the quality of the portraits but also due to the unique timing and context of the project. There is a good chance that many of these individuals, certainly those who were in their eighties or nineties at the time, are no longer living; the youngest of those photographed will now be adults, part of the so called ‘millennial generation’. What became of each person? What lives they have since lived, and who else’s lives have they touched?
GENERATIONS is an extension and expansion of the research and ideas Germain began with The Face of the Century. Developed by GRAIN Projects in partnership with Multistory as part of Birmingham 2022 Festival, a large-scale cultural programme designed to coincide with the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games, Germain’s focus is this time upon families based in Birmingham and the Black Country that have four or five direct lineage generations. While this is an idea he has been exploring for some fifteen years, this is the first time GENERATIONS has come to this area of the country. Beginning with an open call for families, extensive shoots take place in people’s homes since November 2021 that centre upon these people as individuals and as integral parts of a complex family structure …
Read the text in full here.
Commissioned by GRAIN Projects and published on Photomonitor, 2022.
Image: Maya Rai 85, Alfred Rai 63, Megan Gosnell 28, George Gosnell 2 months, 2022. By Julian Germain.