The Portrait   

The conversation – a Portrait.

For most photographers a portrait is an artistic representation of an individual or individuals, with the goal of capturing some likeness as to who they are.

Famous American photographer, Richard Avedon carried this further when he said, “A portrait is not a likeness. The moment an emotion or fact is transformed into a photograph it is no longer a fact but an opinion. There is no such thing as inaccuracy in a photograph. All photographs are accurate. None of them is the truth. ”

Popular American painter Jamie Wyeth wrote, “Everything I paint is a portrait, whatever the subject.”

For years most of the photography I did was portraiture, whether wedding pictures for a family, or private sessions. My opinion is that portraits are pretty narcissistic and because of that, can be much harder to do properly than many other photographic pastimes.

Make a bad landscape and no one will really care, capture a bird flying poorly and it’s no big deal; however if you give someone an unflattering photograph of themself and you have might make an enemy for life.

A portrait can be a representation of anything and doesn’t necessarily need to only be of people. Years ago my wife and I had show dogs and would regularly attend and participate in events in hopes of having the judges select our dog as best from some group; and when we did win, we would walk our dogs to a photography booth set up by a skilled dog portraitist to have a portraits taken that day when they looked so good and performed so well.

As I watched a TV show earlier this week I noticed framed pictures of the owner’s cat hanging on the wall, and I have seen all types of pet portraits in friends’ homes. I suppose a picture of a favourite or special car, motorcycle, boat or even treasured holiday snapshot, might be called a portrait.

I wonder if many photographers might agree with the painter Wyeth’s contention that, “Everything I paint (or photograph) is a portrait, whatever the subject.”

Some time ago I went for a slow drive along the winding roads high above my place in Pritchard hoping to find some cows, horses, or deer to photograph. I wanted head and shoulder compositions (or portraits), not animals in the landscape.

I leisurely drove around, passing lots of roadside deer; cows quietly chewing the cud, and finally stopped near two horses standing very close to a fence. My choice was to compose of portrait of them instead of just a pleasing documentary of two horses in a field. So I mounted a 24-85mm lens on my camera, walked through the wet grass to the fence to take their picture, and worked angle after angle for a portrait.

I suppose the words “artistic representation” and “goal of capturing some likeness” are appropriate when a photographer captures human-like qualities in animal portraits. I wanted a picture that included me, or at least inferred some conversation between the horses about me. My image is, as Avedon said, “….an opinion”.

There is Nothing Like Photography  

White church

Fraser River view

Anacortis Oil Refinery

Lilloet

Coastal tree view

Hay Field

 

“In visual terms there has been nothing like photography in the history of the world. There is no vocabulary for it. Photography literally stops something dead. It’s the death of the moment. The second a picture is taken that life is held, stopped and over. That moment is over.”

I found this quote by photographer Richard Avedon that I had tucked away years ago into the pages of a book of photography by Eliot Porter entitled, “Intimate Landscapes”.

Photography is powerful that way. There has never been a medium that has captured the interest of so many people like photography. When it became popular in the 1800s, no one could have envisioned how important to the world and to our personal lives photography would become.

For those of us in Canada the first known photograph was by an Englishman named Pattinson, here on a business trip in 1840. He was a student of an early form of photography perfected by Louis Jacques Mande Daguerre and had stopped at Niagara Falls to produce the now cherished historical Daguerreotype photograph.

The Daguerreotype would have taken more than 20 minutes for the scene to expose on a silver-coated plate inside his camera. Later he would surround the plate with warm mercury fumes that would slowly make the image visible.

I begin to think about photographing the landscape near my home this morning and I almost headed out, but the flat light and icy cold rain made me change my mind.

To keep myself in the mood I decided Eliot Porter’s book of photographs from northwestern New Mexico and southeastern Utah would be perfect to review with a cup of coffee. I find Porter’s photography stimulating.

Porter wrote, “The natural world has always attracted my eye: associations of living and inanimate phenomena, from the tropics to the poles and from rain forests to deserts, have been favourite photographic subjects for almost half a century. Grasses and sedges, especially, appeal to me – an appeal like disordered hair across a face, or a windblown field of hay before the mowing…”

Reading his or any other book on photography for that matter, helps me examine the way I make photographs and try to photograph things differently.

I do think photographic ideas and opportunities sometimes happen in a moment that once passed will never be the same. Many times I just want to make a photograph for no other reason than it is fun to make.

Here is another quote from Porter’s book that I endorse as well. Porter says, “I do not photograph for ulterior purposes. I photograph for the thing itself – for the photograph…” I like that. Sometimes just the process of making a photograph for no other reason than doing it is enough.

Photography in this digital age has become so very easy, but I think good photography can be as time consuming as it ever has been, requiring practice and education by those that take it seriously.

As I turned the pages of Porter’s book I thought about how nice it would be if the hills above my home get lots of snow in the coming winter. If you have a moment check out landscape photographer Eliot Porter in your local library, or on-line, and hopefully his photographs will inspire you as he does me. You might also look up Richard Avedon.

 

 

 

What Inspired or Inspires you to do Photography     

Inspiring Viewpoint 2

Palouse river canyon 2

 

 

 

A member of a photography site I frequented some time ago posed the question, “What inspired you?”

I took that to mean what inspired you as a photographer?

One would think that a question on a photographer’s website page would be a great opportunity for photographers to talk about those that encouraged, influenced, or affected their development in this exciting medium.

Anticipating discussions on celebrated photographers who had inspired others on that forum to get into photography I looked forward to reading members replies. However, I was surprised and disappointed with how few took the time to respond, and those that did seemed silly by only naming long gone painters like Rembrandt. Rembrandt? Not one member on that photographer’s forum mentioned another photographer.

Unable to contain myself I wrote, “I was inspired to do photography by photographers not painters. Those I admired and inspired me at different times include Man Ray, Richard Avedon, Irving Penn, Arnold Neuman, Gregory Heisler, Sarah Moon, Sheila Metzner and Annie Leibovitz. I must also mention scenic photographers like Elliott Porter, Ansel Adams, Edward Steichen and Edward Weston.”

Today I sent a friend a picture I had taken of him and several other friends in the early 1970s. I remembered at that time I was rarely without a camera, and how frustrating that was to some that just got tired of my constant picture taking. That’s when I recalled the preceding post on inspiration and my response.

I suppose there are painters and sculptors I like, but do they inspire my photography? No not really – I look to photographers for that. The first photographer and artist that inspired me all those years ago was Man Ray. It was after viewing his fascinating pictures that I began to study photography.

However, it is the second photographer on my inspiration list, Richard Avedon that I’ll quote here, “I think many photographers create in order to survive, both emotionally as well as financially. For a photographer, taking a photo is just as important as breathing”.

Sometimes when I see a photograph that I like I get excited. I might not be able to go to the location or find the subject of that picture, but it still makes me want to grab my camera and begin searching for something. I could say that photograph inspired me to create one of my own in my own personal way.

In my list to that forum I forgot to include the famous Canadian nature photographer and author, Freeman Patterson. I think any photographer interested in photographing gardens or landscapes will find inspiration in his photographs and his writing. Patterson wrote,  “Seeing, in the finest and broadest sense, means using your senses, your intellect, and your emotions. It means encountering your subject matter with your whole being. It means looking beyond the labels of things and discovering the remarkable world around you.”

There are many things and people that inspire me, too many to write down here, but the original post was on a photographer’s forum, so it’s photographers not painters that I thought about. There are many photographers past and present whose images are worth searching for, looking at, learning from, and of course, gaining inspiration from that will surely affect one’s own photography.

I always enjoy everyone’s comments. Please don’t hesitate if you have a moment.

Thanks, John

Some Thoughts on Portrait Photography

   Kisa4

Monica

Model 2

Walter's Portrait

Almost exactly a year ago I wrote an article titled, “Some Thoughts on Portrait Photography” and included a quote by Peter Brunnell the author of, “Creative Camera International 1977”.  Brunnell wrote, “There is no single form or style of portraiture. Portraiture means individualism and as such means diversity, self-expression, private point of view. The most successful images seem to be those which exist on several planes at once and which reflect the fantasy and understanding of many.”

I remembered that blog post and decided to revisit it after having a discussion with friend and fellow photographer, Michael Beach this week about creative portraiture. We talked about several aspects of photographing people, but I think the topic we kept returning to was a about making portraits that had a different look and feel than other photographers in the town we both lived in.

In last February’s article I referred to my college photography instructor’s contention that we should always follow rules for portraiture. I won’t go into those at this time. I’ll just say they weren’t very imaginative and left little room for innovation or experimentation for that matter.

My argument with his lectures on portraiture, are that great portrait photographers like Irving Penn, Arnold Newman, Bert Stern, Yousuf Karsh, Richard Avedon, Eve Arnold, and Annie Leibovitz, to name a few that I like, were anything but rule followers, and what marked their work, as Brunnell wrote was, “individualism .…..self-expression, (and a) private point of view.”  I did then, and still do think, that’s a lot for us mere-mortal photographers as we struggle to make our portraits something more than mere documentaries.

When I approach portraiture I try to create portraits that are, well, creative. Sometimes everything works and sometimes it doesn’t.  However, I always strive for something different, maybe even unique, in each.

Of course, one must be aware of how our subject sees themselves and the circumstances and conditions under which the portrait is made. Using a word coined by Minor White, I think most successful portrait photographers “previsualze” the final portrait.

White, co-founder with Ansel Adams and Dorothea Lang of the influential photography magazine, Aperture, has been hailed as one of America’s greatest photographers. And regarding previsualization, Ansel Adams defined it as, “The ability to anticipate a finished image before making the exposure.”

I’ll ad another quote by Minor White that fits here and might be a good thought for a photographer about to pick up that camera to make a portrait, “One should not only photograph things for what they are but for what else they are.”

Sometimes it’s the expression on a subject’s face that makes the image. And to get that expression the photographer and subject may need to experiment with different moods and emotions.  Portraitists spend much time putting people at ease and making them comfortable in front of a camera. I think it’s all about gaining a person’s trust that we are going to help them look the best they can.

The Internet is packed with “How to” advice on portraiture photography. Some of it is worth thinking about and some is bewildering. Those serious about bettering his or her portrait photography will select what works best and is the most comfortable.

A year ago I summed up with the following that worked for me then as it does now,

Everything comes down to one’s personal definition of what a portrait is. According to Wikipedia, “it is a picture of a person, a description. It can be a photograph, a sketch, a sculpture, but a portrait is so much more than that. It is collaboration between the subject and in this case the photographer.”  Collaboration is the key word for me in that description, and in my experience those portraits I have made that I think are the most successful, is because the person who was in front of the camera was willing to work, or collaborate, with me towards the final image.

I always look forward to any comments. Thanks, John

My website is at www.enmanscamera.com

Remembering those Great Portrait Photographers that influenced me.

Mike and Shannon Moyer's wedding in Kamloops.

Mike and Shannon Moyer’s wedding in Kamloops.

I had been editing images from a wedding (pictured) I photographed on the weekend and decided to take a break, and settled down to watch a documentary that my wife had recorded on television about photography-great Annie Leibovitz.

Leibovitz made a name for herself with her collaborative style of portrait photography in the 1970s as a photographer for the Rolling Stone magazine and, of course, if you’re my age you may remember the incredible photos she made while touring with the actual Rolling Stones rock band.

The program was a walk down memory lane for me, and I thought about how she and other successful photographers had influenced my approach to photography, and as I watched I considered some other great photographers that impacted my view of portraiture.

The first photographers I became aware of while living and beginning my study of photography in Los Angeles so long ago were the co-founders of Group f/64, an association of west coast photographers.  I would go to exhibitions of their work and irritate my friends because I would ignore them to sit for long periods viewing each photographer’s work; I was amazed with the way they dealt with light and shadow. Ansel Adams and Imogene Cunningham, although not especially portrait photographers, were among those that changed the way photography was approached. Adams is well known to most, but Cunningham’s controlled photography of patterns, detail, and texture is worth viewing not only for her portraiture but also in her botanical work.  On portraiture she was known to comment, “The thing that’s fascinating about portraiture is that nobody is alike.”

Discovering Arnold Newman stopped me in my tracks. Newman photographed the world’s most influential people and his portraiture was termed “environmental”.  Unlike many of his contemporaries at the time, he might include tables, pianos, and other elements he deemed structurally important to a portrait and when interviewed about his style he said, “I am always lining things up, measuring angles…. I’m observing the way you sit, and the way you fit into the composition of the space around you.”

Another woman that challenged the way photographers approached portrait photography at that time was Sarah Moon. Her photographs were mysterious and surreal, sometimes in weirdly muted colours, or nostalgic with diffused grain. Her comment as to her portraiture was, “I never photograph reality.”

One of my favourite portraitists that I have mentioned and quoted many times is Richard Avedon, and his minimalist style with stark white backgrounds. The provocative three-foot high photographs from his exhibition entitled “In the American West” were an important hallmark in 20th century portrait photography. When talking about photography he said, “if a day goes by without my doing something related to photography, it’s as though I’ve neglected something essential to my existence, as though I had forgotten to wake up. I know that the accident of my being a photographer has made my life possible.”

There are many more that made me want to spend time making portraits in my early days with this medium, but the last I’ll mention is Irving Penn.  Truly an artist, his portraits are more than images depicting beautiful people and his prints take on the mantle of works of art in themselves. He said, “I myself have always stood in the awe of the camera. I recognize it for the instrument it is, part Stradivarius, part scalpel.”

Photographing people and stopping their lives for a fleeting moment is pure enjoyment, and for those photographers that want to become more proficient I recommend spending time searching out the famous photographers I have mentioned, viewing their works, and applying the lessons learned to their own portrait photography.

To complete my tribute to those portrait photographers that affected my photography, and that of many others. I will end with Imogene Cunningham’s famous quote “Which of my photographs is my favourite? The one I’m going to take tomorrow.”

Don’t hesitate to leave me your comments. Thanks, John

My website is at www.enmanscamera.com

Some Thoughts on Portrait Photography

Model 2portrait by Enmanm

Photographers have been making portraits since the first camera was invented. In spite of the popularity of landscape, wildlife, and sports photography, I believe that most of the pictures that have been made, and still being made, are portraits of people.

Peter Bunnell in Creative Camera International Year Book 1977 wrote,  “There is no single form or style of portraiture. Portraiture means individualism and as such means diversity, self-expression, private point of view. The most successful images seem to be those which exist on several planes at once and which reflect the fantasy and understanding of many.”

I like that because I recall being bothered by my college photography instructor’s contention that we should always follow what he referred to as rules for portraiture. Guide lines possibly, but rules? When I examined the great portrait photographers like Irving Penn, Arnold Newman, Bert Stern, Richard Avedon, Eve Arnold, and Annie Leibovitz, to name a few, in my opinion they are anything but rule followers.

One might be able to recognize the photographic work of Penn, Avedon, or Leibovitz and casually use the words “that’s their style”. However, what marks their work, as Brunnell says, is “individualism .…..self-expression, (and a) private point of view.”  That is a lot to aspire to for mortal photographers as we struggle to make our portraits something more than mere documentaries.

When I approach portraiture I try to create portraits that are, well, creative. Sometimes everything works and sometimes it doesn’t.  I want something different in each.

Of course, one must be aware of how a person sees themselves and the circumstances and conditions under which the portrait is made, and I always (using a word coined by Minor White) previsualize the final portrait.  In Ansel Adam’s writings on photography he defined previsualization as, “The ability to anticipate a finished image before making the exposure.”

I know that for a successful portrait the person I am photographing needs to be the main point of interest. I am aware that a way to capture the attention of the viewer one could fill the frame with the subject’s face so there’s really nowhere else to look.

Sometimes it’s the expression on a subject’s face that makes the image. And to get that expression the photographer and subject may need to experiment with different moods and emotions.  Portraitists spend much time putting people at ease and making them comfortable in front of a camera. I think it’s all about gaining a person’s trust that we are going to help them look the best they can.

Some photographers get stuck in a rut by only shooting either horizontally, or vertically, or always from the same angle. To them I suggest mixing up framing in each portrait session so there will be a variety of images.

The internet is packed with “How to” advice on portraiture photography. Some of it is worth thinking about and some is bewildering. Those serious about bettering his or her portrait photography will select what works best and is the most comfortable.

Everything comes down to one’s personal definition of what a portrait is. According to Wikipedia, “it is a picture of a person, a description. It can be a photograph, a sketch, a sculpture, but a portrait is so much more than that. It is collaboration between the subject and in this case the photographer.”  Collaboration is the key word for me in that description, and in my experience those portraits I have made that I think are the most successful, is because the person who was in front of the camera was willing to work, or collaborate, with me towards the final image.

Following up on last week’s column there has been lots of discussion by the photographers that attended the strobist meetup. What lens worked, thoughts and suggestions on the lighting, and on posing models. We have been looking at each other’s pictures from that day, and a good critique among friends on what worked and what didn’t is always welcome and fun.

As always, I appreciate your comments. Thanks, John

My website is at www.enmanscamera.com