Maxine Helfman's photo series places black people in historical Flemish-style portraits
Helfman said the images create a social "contradiction" and force viewers to think
Helfman stages the subjects of her photos to command respect and exude power
Photographer Maxine Helfman didn’t foresee the current outcry around civil rights in America back in 2012, when she began shooting portraits in the style of the old Flemish master painters – using only black models.
Placing people of color within a portrait style that historically was the domain of the European elite is a political statement on inequality couched in a beautiful tableaux.
Helfman’s subjects in the “Historical Correction” series wear the same aloof expressions of 17th-century noblemen and women in portraits commissioned from artists like Frans Hals. Light plays across their faces, white collars and billowing black vestments in a manner familiar to followers of the Dutch and Flemish masters.
The difference is that their faces are varying shades of brown.
Helfman, 61, wanted to create historical documentation of a population that never was. The images subvert the obvious storyline – that social strata often break down along racial lines. Her photos are a “contradiction,” she said, to the stories of inequality that are being told in protests across the United States.