Radcliffe’s candid portraits of friends, family, acquaintances, carefully composed and richly printed, seem to meet the definition of documentary photography. ...his images are, in fact, powerful challenges to that definition, as he pushes his use of the photograph as a document. Unlike the cold, objective, observational nature often characteristic of this kind of photography, Radcliffe approaches his subjects with an unavoidable compassion and insight. With his sensitivity towards his subjects, the layer of textures he finds with his camera lens, and the richness of tone he achieves with his skillful printing, his portraits mesmerize us with their depth and world-worn vulnerability and innocence.
Radcliffe’s approach to the people he photographs is essential to understanding the results he achieves with his final images. His photographs, usually produced as a series of images made over a span of time, offer the complex relation to time we experience only with still photography. They also allow us as viewers to experience the intimacy that he achieves with his subjects, as a result of his long-term, often single-minded commitment to them. He establishes an empathetic connection with them, finding in them and then capturing with his camera lens, their own compassion and place in life, and shares that with us. Through their faces and eyes which he manages sensitively to capture, we are allowed to view their souls; and whether we feel attracted or repulsed by the portraits, we are mesmerized by them, and they are committed to our visual memory
....[one of Radcliffe's extended portrait series is] Beppi and Steven Isbert and their children, Gunner, Ivana, and Strom, a family that he began photographing in 1992. ...Beppi and Steven, who met while Beppi was in college studying art, married shortly after she graduated, and have had three children since. In his description of the family, Radcliffe has noted that Beppi and Steven share a passion for dress-up and that they also “admit they have come from self-described dysfunctional families, which has determined their strong marital bond, their desire for a large family, and the way they relate as husband and wife so compelling.” His portraits of them, whether in their bedroom with their son Gunner or of Beppi and Gunner blowing bubbles, are tender renderings of a non-traditional, loving family. Through his insightful and sensitive interpretations, arrived at by strategic and patient photography, Radcliffe brings this non-traditional family into our yen of understanding and makes us consider them with compassion.
Perhaps among the most intimate of Radcliffe’s subject matter is the continuing series on his daughter Alison, whom he has photographed since her birth, “in the tradition of a new parent.” While his photographs of Alison began as a separate and private body of work, the process of documenting her over the years moved him to a new level of awareness with his photographic approach. He “developed a passionate interest in human relationships and capturing intimate moments in the lives of family and friends,” focusing on the strength of relationships, and often “using personal environments to amplify those connections.”
While Radcliffe has focused much of his creative energy developing powerfully emotional series of people, he has also successfully employed his photographic compassion to more singular subjects, such as his neighbor Gene, Beppi’s sister Mary, or his former student, Donna. Whether as a long-term project, or a one-time photo shoot, Radcliffe successfully captures the spirit of his subjects with a rare compassion and insight. Through his eyes we see and appreciate their own power from within.
Cynthia WayneCurator of ExhibitionsAlbin O. Kuhn Library & Gallery, UMBC, 1999.