What is a Portrait (Critical Reflection)

What is a portrait?
– There is a person or people in the images
– Record or representation
– Can capture the essence of someone they know
– The power to create a reaction
– Not just a person – animals too
– staged or natural

We have portraits, magazines, social network, books, gallery, pockets id’s… everywhere

Who commissions the portraits effects the purpose of the image:
– Gallerys promoting arstists
– advertising to sell a product
– companies and brands as part of a campaign

Firstly photography was expensive and slow. It was a form of identity rather than (precieved then) as a form of art. People didn’t do group portraits because they thought a would take longer, showing the lack of knowledge surrounding photography.Now the old images are serving a purpose to record an event in time, which adds art to them. In the 1860’s, photographers would reference artists, and use props to move towards being considered as a work of art but it wasn’t consider as an art form because of the strength of pre-modernist art.

subject, photographer,viewer are the power relationships, the photographer comes into the situation with power to manipulate the situation with how he / her deals with the subject.
Photographers should be aware of how the camera makes you feel so they can use their approach to create an art form, some people put subjects in discomfort to show vulnerability
When the photographer approaches the subject, they should make it welcoming by asking ‘Can I make an image with you’ – assessing the power relationship, and making the subject have power in the situation.

portrait photographer needs to question and challenge what is already out there and bridge the gap of stereotypes
we can present ourself with clothes and profile pictures because we think portraits as denotations; we are presented with photos all the time, the tendency to remove the person from the critic of portraits. Actors try and give connotations because they need to present certain ideas in their work, but the photographer should be aware that subjects are trying to effect the connotations of the portrait so there isn’t an ulterior reaction the viewer gets. Actors will present themselves without smiles, because when there isn’t a smile we believe it more. A portrait is like an interview for a portion of our lives, so we represent a smile, do we want the subject to represent themselves or do we want to represent them, the smile becomes utilitarian but we should consider is it fair to ask someone not to smile. Photographers like Thomas Struth and Alec Soth access the smile and take images that mean more because they’ve considered the connotations of their subjects face.


Can a portrait represent something much larger?
Che Gevarra, Barack Obama, Falling man – Stands for much more
Melissa Cacciola scales war down to a personal level so the viewer engages with the work, the people in uniform are still human.
Still images allow us to thing and draw connotations. Portraits that have power are the ones that are honest.


The portrait doesn’t have to take up the whole frame, the portrait isn’t everything. Social landscapes or environmental portraits are also

Can I make a portrait of a person without them present? The photographer can capture human presence, photograph the person who occupies something to get a sense for them. Someone who has past away or someone who is missed.

Larry Sulton – The Valley – people become props – everyday occurrences, like clues that give away what is happening – we question what is the fantasy.


Jane Hilton – Dead eagle trail
The book is predominately portraits, or environmental portraits, things come in from the outside – making the portraits uncomfortable – people feel uncomfortable, wants to be outside because the light is seeping through. Presenting a different reality.
The projects speak about something big


Critical Reflection

I found this lecture, like the what is photography lecture, thought provoking. I did however want to understand the portrait photographers approach more. How did they approach and find these people? How did they direct these people? And why did they choose them? Photographers like Richard Avedon thought a lot about their approach with portrait photography so I wanted to hear about him and others like him who experimented with the way they dealt with subjects. However, the section about provoking human presence was interesting, it made me adapt my viewpoint on portrait photography, considering work like Lee Friedlander photographing him shadow on objects and other people as a portrait. These social landscapes provoke more art because it adds a certain mystery to the image, so I enjoyed this interpretation. For my assignment 1 project of isolation, I wanted more information about approach for portraiture, because walking up to someone on the street and taking their photo is frowned upon, and the subjects awkwardness will be captured in the image. Each of the photographers that were mentioned have been able to control the situation and produce relaxed images, but their approach wasn’t touched on, instead the denotations and connotations of the image. This was useful, but without relaxing the subject, it is difficult to control the denotations of the image. However, the section about human presence did intrigue me for my project. The lecture showed me how there could be a portrait without there being anyone there, like with Ben Roberts ‘occupied spaces’. This could be used in my project with urban landscapes that have been run down, suggesting previous human presence and current isolation. Overall, this lecture did inform me of interesting ideas to present through portraiture, and the significance of the smile, but it didn’t help with the approach that photographers use to create the images they want.




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