Sunday, November 22, 2009


Visiting the interesting photographic museum in Antwerp, Belgium, I came across a photobook of portraits. The photographer, Jacob Reis, had presented 100 photographs of 100 different people all born in different years during the last century.
The photographs are in colour and the printing in some cases rather over-exaggerates this which does not help the portraits. However, the overall effect is impressive with most people being portrayed in their environment which in most cases means the home.
A fascinating record of Belgians that illustrates people from many different walks of life.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

reflections on portrait painting; the origins of portrait photography!

It might be beneficial to consider portrait painting; this art form was largely superseded by photography which was able to give a more exact representation in a much shorter time. Yet, as the author Kranz points out in a small book published on the portrait, "that even photography is not objective" since it is also subjective. The impression left by the sitter is going to be dependant on the sitter, the photographer and those for whom the portrait is intended.

The author mentions the work of August Sander and Thomas Ruff, concluding by saying that "reflections on the portrait as a work of art are not rendered redundant even in the brave new world of pixels."

The following is a brief account of what the author argues and may be of help in understanding the genre of portraiture as a whole.

Friday, September 11, 2009

a visit to the National Portrait Gallery

Last week, a visit to the National Portrait Gallery which lies behind the National Gallery overlooking Trafalgar Square in London. The annual Portrait Gallery exhibition was on and it was interesting to see the results and what modern contemporary portrait painters offer. What was interesting was a few paintings that had obviously been done from photographs (probably most had been!) and reflected the fine detail that the photographic portrait contains. In fact, one of these had taken four years to finish as egg tempura was used and the result looked more life like than a photograph since it almost glowed. Staring closely at it, a portrait of the artist's son, one found it hard not to believe it was a photograph while a much larger portrait of an elderly woman also conveyed a sense of realism that could only come from a photograph. It made me reflect a little on the relationship between art and photography and clearly, here was an example of photography allowing the artist to create something more realistic than a photograph. This beggars the question as to what might be accomplished if the photographer, having made his portrait photograph, then got to work using filters in Photoshop. By adding a little abstraction, he/she might possibly end up with an image that gives an insight into the sitter that straight photography misses!? I have done this but not pursued the matter.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

interaction in portrait photography

It appears that one of the most important conditions for portrait photography is the rapport that exists between the photographer and subject/s. "Rapport" would appear to be the correct word here since it implies a level of exchange in which both parties are equal.
The photographer, it seems, needs to be in control of what is happening but not controlling. This may sound like a rather fine point but an overbearing photographer will not be able to help his subjects relax. If a person is not at ease when being photographed, he will start to get tense which is likely to show in strained musculature of the face as well as a guarded expression.
Of course, there are always exceptions to this rule and a classic example is when Yousuf Karsh photographed Sir Winston Churchill. Unable to get the expression he wanted, Karsh snatched Churchills trademark cigar from his hand and one was left with an iconic image of a glowering face, the archetypal british bulldog, who was best known for his stirring speeches to the British people during the Second World War in the mid-nineteenth century.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Richard Avedon

After looking at some of David Bailey's photographs, it seems natural to look at those of Richard Avedon's since they bear a similarity of style ... square frame, plain background, formal yet largely unposed ... David Bailey has the following to say about Avedon ...

“He's so great, maybe the greatest. He defines a particular period in America for me in the same way as Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol and Walker Evans. Avedon is such a personal photographer as well, which is ironic, considering he called his collection simply Evidence. He is also a photographer in the real sense of the word. He never tries to be anything else but someone who takes pictures. A classic imagemaker."

I once owned a set of Avedon's. That sounds rather grand so let me clarify. When barely a teenager, the Beatles were at their height and I loved their music. It therefore seeemed natural to but a set of psychedelically coloured photographic posters of the "fab four" which I put on the walls of my bedroom. Only while researching this blog on Avedon did I come to know they were his images. Good to see photography that is really in the centre of the market place rather than an artistic fringe.

There are quite a lot of Avedon's photographs on the net. The following link is good ...
One can look inside a number of his books here.

Biographical information can also be found. The V+A website mentions the folowing ...

Richard Avedon has transformed fashion photography and portraiture alike, creating an instantly identifiable aesthetic which has influenced countless others. His ‘signature’ large format studio portraits of politicians, writers and artists render the sitters "symbolic of themselves", as he put it. His use of stark white backgrounds and life-size printing places viewers in a new relationship to the photographic image - a physical and almost confrontational one. His ability to create visual tension and surprise through unexpected contrasts is unparalleled.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

some quotes relevant to portrait photography

"The face is where we are. We kiss, eat, breathe and speak through it. It's where we look, listen and smell. It is where we think of ourselves as being finally and conclusively on show. It's the part we hide when we are ashamed and the bit we think we lose when we are in disgrace" - Jonathon Green.

There is a belief that this genre is photography's central project!

Geoff Dyer, author of the Ongoing Moment on the subject of portrait photography ...

"the photographer's aim shouldbe a profound likeness, which physically and morally predicts the subject's entire future."

As I understand, portrait photography is about capturing the essence of a person; the photograph will record the detail surrounding this yet can also reflect it.

David Bailey

While in Delhi, I buy a copy of Time Out (there is a quarter page on a series of talks that are being given, one of which is mine!) and includes a photograph of mine (the one I am presently using as my ID photo on the OCA website of 3 green bee eaters.) Might a photograph of a bird be considered a portrait? Presumably but the photograph here is a side-angled shot of three birds none of which are looking at the camera; portrait imples some kind of relationship between photographer and the one being photographed this is more like an illustration.

Also buy a copy of First City, a magazine not unlike Time Out. Here there is again mention of my talk and a different photo, one from a series I am doing about a park in India. The interesting thing about this magazine is that there is a photograph of David Bailey on the front not trying to hide his 73 years; inside, there is a small portfolio of his work containing classic images from the 1960's and more recent ones from the last decade. One might argue that David Bailey is more of a fashion photographer than a portrait photographer yet he has recorded the likeness of many notable people of his time while his images do suggest a meeting between photographer and subject which is surely a hallmark of the portrait; when a photograph is taken of a criminal for instance, there is something missing for most criminals seeming to be staring blankly at a camera that merely records their features while saying next to nothing about the person they belong to. Such photographs can leave one feeling as cold and alienated as the person being photographed apparently is.

Bailey himself says that a portrait session is all about what happens between him and the subject; he does not take many shots, perhaps half a dozen, yet those shots record this "private meeting".

Bailey's pin up as a youngman was not a gorgeous model like most of his contemporaries but a painting of a woman by Picasso; Picasso was his hero who he met but would not dare photograph and today he demonstrates a surprising knowledge of art. If there is one photographer whose images he seems to echo, it is surely Richard Avedon whose work he admits to liking.

Reading his interview is perhaps not as interesting as looking at his photographs.

As Bailey says, they are simple! A square with a plain usually white background and in black and white; even today, he still prefers film over digital, the latter allowing too much to be done later on which in turn destroys the moment he is recording. Some of his later portraits such as one of Tracey Emin are in colour; many have a sensuous, intimate, startling and tactile quality

Well, there are many other photographers whose work I would like to look at and books containing collections of portrait photographs are probably going to be the best way of doing this.

I might purchase course author's book on the Expert Digital Photographer's Guide to the Portrait which was suggested in the last module. I wonder if a history of portrait photography might be relevant (there is the danger of becoming an armchair photographer!) such as Max Kosloff's Theatre of the Face: portrait photography since 1900 (this would omit Margaret Cameron, an interesting nineteenth century portrait photographer) while more technical books that deal with lighting do not interest me although one book called Train Your Gaze by Roswell Angier might be worth considering. A useful book would be Fergus Greer's book on portraits by the world's great photographers. A book I already have that I shall look at again is Tete a Tete by Henri Cartier Bresson.

While travelling I am not going to have much access to these books but later on they could be relevant.

Time for my blog to end for now!


begining a new module

At the end of june, the gift wrapped package containing notes for the People and Place (Photography Level 1) course arrived.

The first thing I did was to look through the various assignments to see what subjects I might choose. I write this a few days later from Delhi where I am spending a couple of nights. There is a potential wealth of material here of course and while in India I shall probably do some of the projects.

During my last module, Introduction to Digital Photography, I managed to make every assignment from material shot while visiting the Taj Mahal (a couple of full days had been spent there on previous trips) and I wonder if I might continue this self imposed discipline during this module. Of course, any portraiture done there would include the place as background although assignment 3 is concerned with simply place though not just one location. Continuing with the Taj Mahal as my only location might therefore be too limiting although it does contain a complex of buildings.

As a subject for portrait, I am considering another subject I have used before and that is Lucky, my mother's dog. To photograph an animal as a portrait is not easy and to create a series of portraits which would show a number of different doggy moods in different and apparently unrelated parts of the house, would be a worthwhile challenge. However, am also considering photographing my neighbour's teenage daughter having done one already of her; it would be a matter of photographing her engaged in her daily ativities rather than making formal portraits in different locations although I do have an idea to photograph her in the porch of a Tudor mansion.

Before one gets going though, it is suggested that one has a good look at available published photographic portraits. I shall start by doing this since although I have seen many different photographic portraits over the years, it is different when one looks at them with a view to making one's own.

Enough blogging for now!