In a group portrait, the relationships and comparisons between individuals are weighty: Who stands and who sits? Why does one person smile, while another scowls? What does the subjects’ dress tell us about them? Steinbach’s series Gesellschaft beginnt mit drei (Society Begins with Three), which is titled after an essay by German sociologist Ulrich Bröckling, follows the basic format of a group portrait composed of three models, all of whom turn toward the camera (and the viewer) with a steady gaze. Yet in each picture, only one figure is depicted in full; the others have been cropped partially out of the frame. Looking at the series,, we begin to realize that the models have switched positions and clothing. By creating a sense of disorientation in this way, Steinbach’s images defy rigid interpretations and remind us that individuals are mutable and inconsistent, as are their relationships to others.
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