What is a Portrait?

On Tuesday 15th October 2012, we also had a lecture that discussed the question “What is a portrait?“. We began with a 10 minute group exercise where we had to answer five questions to do with portraiture and then fed back to the class. We then had a 30 minute presentation that included the definition of a portrait and important portrait photographers that we should know and research. After this, we were sent off in pairs to take our own style of portraits. Below are my notes that I took from this lecture and the photographs that I took in the practical.

What is a portrait?

What do you think a portrait is?

  • A photograph of a person
  • A representation of a person (for example, shadows)
  • It could be a painting
  • An image that depicts the person
  • It could include an animal
  • Used for identification

 

Where are they found?

  • Gallery’s
  • Internet
  • Adverts
  • Magazines
  • Social Network Sites
  • Shops
  • Houses – walls
  • Family Albums
  • Gifts – T-shirts/Mugs/Teddy Bears/Lockets
  • Everywhere
  • Publications
  • Books
  • ID/Passports

 

Who commissions them and why?

  • The subject – they want a nice portrait and they need to give their permission
  • The photographer – self-portraits (this is seen as a different topic to portraits that we will be returning to in a future lecture)
  • Editor/magazines – for advertising and selling
  • Newspapers – for a story
  • Gallery’s – when looking at a particular theme
  • Company
  • Family
  • Brand
  • Person
  • Band

 

What should a portrait include?

  • A person
  • Narrative
  • Personal Insight
  • The essence of someone
  • Identity
  • Body parts – shows it is a human/animal
  • Objects

 

What should a portrait exclude?

  • The photographers opinion on the person – should try and be a realistic representation of the subject
  •  Portrait meanings can change depending on its purpose
  • Depending on the portraits commissioner, the use of the image could change

 

  • Portrait definition:
    • “A portrait is a painting, photograph, sculpture, or other artistic representation of a person, in which the face and its expression is predominant. The intent is to display the likeness, personality, and even the mood of the person. For this reason, in photography a portrait is generally not a snapshot, but a composed image of a person in a still position. A portrait often shows a person looking directly at the painter or photographer, in order to most successfully engage the subject with the viewer.” (Wikipedia)
  • Does a portrait need to include a face?
    • “No. A portrait does not have to include a face. It does if you are capturing the likeness of someone, which is the classic use of portraiture, but not necessarily if you are attempting to capture or express the essence (whatever that is) of someone. As another person has pointed out, you do have to be able to tell from the image who that person is in some way. If you don’t, then the image becomes general to just people and it’s not a portrait anymore.” (Yahoo! Answers)

 

  • Historical portraits
    • They were commissioned for two reasons
      • Forms of identity/surveillance
      • As a remembrance/generally commissioned to flatter
      • An object of curiosity

Famous Portrait Photographers:

  • Victoria Pavlov
    • Unusual looking people/exotic

 

  • Lavtr
    • Believe he could tell who a criminal was using facial features and types

 

  • Irving Penn
    • New York
    • Formal
    • Portraits was seen as a social thing
    • He photographed his community and friends that turned out to be famous; Picasso and Cecil Beaton

 

  • August Sander
    • German
    • 1901-1930’s – used large format cameras
    • Documented the German race as types of people, e.g. tramps
    • The discussions were that Hitler stopped his work because it wasn’t Aryan enough

 

  • Diane Arbus
    • Photographed social outcasts, the edge of society
    • 50’s and 60’s
      • Hard lighting
      • It’s not about flattery
      • Alienating

 

  • Richard Avedon
    • 1985 “In the American West”
    • Photographed normal people for their environment
    • Calm and isolated from their environment
    • Large format

 

  • Mary Ellen Mark
    • Indian photographer
    • Photographed the fringes of society – made abnormal people look normal
    • Looked at things in a different way
    • Can connect back to Diane Arbus

 

  • Nicholas Nixon
    • Portrait photographer
    • Married to a woman with the maiden name of Brown
    • Once a year for 25 years he photographed the Brown sisters which showed the aging process and changes in fashion and technology

 

  • Steven Pike
    • Early 90’s
    • Philosophers
    • Kept intimate and close within his photographs
    • Small depth of field

 

  • Nick Dapplington
    • 1991
    • The Living Room
    • He used large format in a non intrusive way
    • The photographs look like snap shots
    • He photographed the type of background that he came from but didn’t use his own family

 

  • Thomas Struth
    • Went to an Art school in Germany
    • Objectivity about the subject
    • Has a particular school of thought
    • Shot in day light with a large format camera

 

  • Tuai Barley
    • American photographer
    • Used large format
    • Photographed upper, middle class
    • Photographed European’s – including Austrians
    • The viewer can make assumptions using the surrounding environment
    • Makes 10 copies of each negative then throws the original negatives away as it becomes more valuable

 

  • Dayanita Singh
    • Asian
    • Photographed sisters and family that were wealthy
    • Privacy” – 2003
    • Upper middle class, Indian

 

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