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Tuesday, 08 August 2017


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If ya wanna steer clear of the dreaded deadpan portraits, one can't do better than to start, or end with Dave Jordano's portraits. Then again, this American master can do it all, and do it very, very well...




Good article by Joerg Colberg but why no attribution in the article for the lead photo* of a beaten concentration camp guard by Lee Miller. No tag, no mention, nothing. I wonder why?

Ah yes, perhaps Joerg Colberg left out the attribution because the photo is not a portrait?

Arguably, yes, the photo of the guard is not a portrait at all, but a photo of a scene. The scene includes a beaten face, but what we are thinking about is who did that to the face and why rather than it being a portrait of a frightened man for whom we might have a bit of sympathy because he never expected to be on the receiving end of what he had been party to dishing out.

* Lee Miller, Buchenwald, Germany: Beaten Prison Guard, April 1945. Lee Miller Archives.

". . . for the most part I like portraits to be engaging, not chilly—and sympathetic, rather than demeaning or cruel..."

"One of my favorite examples of portraiture would have to be Edouard Boubat’s stunning Lella, Bretagne, 1947..."

Every opinion is a matter of taste. That seems especially to be the case with portraits. I personally find the above two statements to be at odds, as I find that portrait cold, impersonal, distant, the opposite of a warm, sympathetic portrait. Closer to Liberty in Delacroix' Liberty Leading the People than a "real" person. Perhaps a brave, dedicated member of the Resistance.

Of the 20 image examples on the What makes a great portrait? page, I quite dislike most and can say I pretty much like three.

Many of the words sound good, but the examples don't work for me.

Timothy Archibald says "Everyone seems to know how to play by the rules and follow the structure, but as far as the intangible goes, this third element, that’s where it all falls apart or comes together, it allows the portrait to sink or swim or really transcend."

Why would there be rules? Guidelines, perhaps, to help those beginning, or those who need to take pictures of people and can't see without assistance. Rules go against basic artistic instincts.

Then he provides an example, with good sounding words "The girls are being photographed, communicating with the viewer, being self aware and being all of these things and more, nothing is very dramatic, nothing heavy handed, but the end result feels utterly profound.", but the image he talks about is a complete failure to my taste, banal, not profound.

I don't mean to say that he is wrong, for himself, and some others. I do mean to say that his response is not generalizable.

Thomas Broening: "Avedon said that all portraits were accurate and none of them were the truth. They are all in a sense a postulation or an argument. Every-time a photographer points the camera a another person he is making a judgement. The grander the judgement the greater the lie."

There seems to me to be a lot of truth in that. For example, Diane Arbus' work seems to me to be an endless repetition of her opinion of life and people. As her outlook is wildly different than mine, I find her work tedious and repetitive.

All this seems to me to be generally true of the opinions on that site, words that I may or may not agree with, often do, linked to images that seem to me most often at odds with the words.

One Data Point

I love doing portraits. Eternity in a 1/60th of a second....

Two words: Jane Bown

Part of being a successful artist is to confront our demons, anxieties and fears. Post your portrait and tell us why you feel it's your best ever. You don't have to spill the baggage if you don't want to.

I think you already have already shown it once, was it framed in a window? Alt least, I remember a beautiful portrait from you.

I think Joergs statement that "...for the most part I like portraits to be engaging, not chilly—and sympathetic, rather than demeaning or cruel ..." goes to the heart of the problem with a lot of street photography too. Publishing pictures of people who clearly didn't want to be photographed, for example, demonstrates an ethical disconnect -a failure of empathy. Which may well be linked to the kind of modernist mindset that obsesses about the corner sharpness of a lens, rather than considering the kinds of relationship involved in using the lens? the subject of Eduard Boubat's photography, by contrast, has dignity and agency.

Really enjoying this thread (portraiture). Lots of good memories. The image featured, surrounded by black was on the final issue of Camera and Darkroon. Sad day, great image.

Hmm… interesting perspective by Bruce Haley; a Western/European cultural point of view. As someone growing up in the Caribbean this woman's portrait has none of the emotional or cultural value that Bruce wrote about. To me it is just another photo.

"(I'm in a weird position because I got crosswise of the subject of my best-ever portrait and I can no longer show it comfortably without dredging up unwelcome interpersonal issues. You know what they say...oh well....)"
Now you've done it. Some of us won't be able to eat or sleep until we see your "best-ever". Get uncomfortable.

Khurt- I can understand you not liking said portrait, but as someone with Caribbean roots myself, I really don't see the cause/effect here...

My youngest niece walked by when I was looking at the photo. I asked her what she thought. She said, "Nice picture of a women taking a selfie."

I always thought it was odd that Martin Parr exhibited his work with Tony Ray Jones in a show a few years ago. When I read the phrase "insulting photographs of everyday folks on holiday at the seaside", I immediately thought of Martin Parr. Yet, the work of Tony Ray Jones is entirely sympathetic to his subjects and conveys a love of the English people like nothing else. Perhaps Martin Parr is deluded and thinks he is sympathetic like Jones, or perhaps he meant it as a contrast in styles. The more I look at portraits, the more I like the work of artists like Jones.

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