April 27, 2011 3:45 PM EDT

In British artist Richard Learoyd’s new portrait series Presences, his minutely detailed life-size prints bring the viewer uncomfortably close, invoking a dichotomy of intimacy and loneliness.

Thai police officers assist a colleague after an explosion during clashes with anti-government protesters near Government House in Bangkok Feb.18, 2014
Athit Perawongmetha—Reuters

Using the most basic form of photography, the camera obscura, Learoyd marries old technology with new: strobe lighting, state of the art optics and Ilfochrome printing to create unexpected voyeurism. “I suppose people see it as alternative process,” says Learoyd, “but I see it as an alternative use of modern materials.”

Each of Learoyd’s unique portraits are born through a laborious commitment of both physical and mental stamina. Models arrive at his studio prepared for a full day, and often two, of sitting still under hot lights. “The way I do things is like taking one photograph and the exposure is 8 hours, the whole day is the exposure,” says Learoyd. “There is hardly anybody who works in studios in the context that I do because it’s painful. Its difficult. It’s a brain ache.”

Some models have been participating in these marathon sessions for more than five years. “I like to work with the same people,” says Learoyd, “because the process is awkward and difficult and it takes a while to teach people how to do it.” Often, they are friends of friends with the sort of timeless features and style that won’t date the images down the road. In the closed world of the studio, he plays the role of therapist for some, for others he is just an eccentric. But at the end of the day, Learoyd is careful to keep his distance. “I don’t socialize with them,” says Learoyd. “I don’t mingle.” He sees the relationship as productive without the muddied distractions of friendship.

Wealthy Chinese looking for an escape route from their native land — and there are hundreds of thousands in this class — received bad news last week: the Canadian government decided to terminate a deal that essentially allowed foreign millionaires to loan 800,000 Canadian dollars (or a little less than $730,000) to the Canadian state for five years in exchange for permanent residency. Ottawa’s cancellation of the immigrant-investor program means that 65,000 pending applications will be left unprocessed. The majority of these unprocessed visa appeals are from mainland Chinese. So what’s a poor rich Chinese to do now? The China Daily, the government’s English-language mouthpiece, described Canada’s cancelation as “unfair” in a Feb. 17 headline. But immigration agencies in Beijing, with their plush offices in the central business district, are hawking plenty of alternatives. One option lies just south of the Canadian border. Chinese who invest as little as $500,000 and employ 10 people in a rural or struggling part of the U.S. can secure EB-5 investor visa, which can lead to green cards. Two major emigration consultancies in Beijing, Globe Visa and Cansine Immigration, are recommending the U.S. now that Canada’s immigrant-investor option has shuttered. (MORE: Found: Offshore Wealth Stashed by Families of China’s Leaders) Then there are the financial laggards of the E.U. that are so desperate for a bailout that they are basically selling residency to cash-endowed Chinese for as little as $100,000. Count nations like Latvia, Greece, Portugal and Cyprus in this distressed category. With less cash than it takes to buy a tiny apartment in the outskirts of Beijing, Chinese investors can acquire residency in one European locale, as well as eventual freedom to roam most of the E.U. without a visa. Even pricier destinations hold allure. A Cansine representative noted that Britain is proving fashionable this year, especially as nations like Australia tighten immigration restrictions. Applicants for British permanent residency must invest £1 million ($1.7 million), 80% of which in treasury bonds and the remainder in either real estate or in a local savings account, according to Cansine. The catch? Program participants must spend at least half the year in Britain; Latvia, by contrast, requires just one day a year in the country to maintain residency. “Britain is very popular among our clients,” says Cansine’s Liu Jianping, “because the process is easy and it takes only a short time to get approval from the British government.” (MORE: Trouble Down South: Why Hong Kong and Mainland Chinese Aren’t Getting Along) There are also the teeny countries that may be hoping to profit from their very nationhood: St. Kitts and Nevis, Vanuatu, Antigua and Barbuda — all are targeting Chinese investors. Finally, don’t forget Canada either. In its latest budget report, Canada’s Ministry of Finance noted: “There is also little evidence that immigrant investors as a class are maintaining ties to Canada or making a positive economic contribution to the country.” Instead, a new scheme may well require would-be immigrants to fully invest in Canada, as opposed to simply providing a zero-interest loan for five years, as the previous program mandated. “We can still help Chinese get to Canada,” says Qu Bo, from the aptly named Go-to-Canada immigration agency in Beijing, which is offering lectures on the new Canadian policy this weekend. Still, any emigration involves risks. Among them are shady brokers who operate with little legal oversight. Last year, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission busted an EB-5 scheme for investment in a Chicago convention center that the government agency says tried to defraud more than $156 million in investments and fees from 250 people, many of whom were Chinese. Luckily, the investment money had been preserved in escrow. But $11 million in fees vanished — along with scores of Chinese hopes for resettling in America. — With reporting by Gu Yongqiang / Beijing
Ottawa may have terminated a deal that essentially allowed foreign millionaires to resettle in Canada, but there are many other options for wealthy Chinese

The collaboration produces a one-of-a-kind, direct positive print, with no negative. Editing is done as each picture is made: “I decide if something is good or bad, then I live with it.” He destroys the discarded images by slashing them, spray painting them and rolling them up wet. “You have to be brutal with yourself. It’s only you who can make those decisions and I make them instantaneously. ” says Learoyd.

Learoyd’s portraits question the ability of the viewer to truly know another person. “There is a closeness people crave from others that is always thwarted,” says Learoyd. “Quite often I think we’d like to merge with others, but there’s always something in between. In this case, its the surface of a photograph.”

Learoyd’s Presences will be on view at the Fraenkel Gallery in San Francisco from May 5 to June 25, 2011.

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