Looking for the portrait that counts

I´ve been researching portraits in order to prepare for assignment 2 on the foundation photography course with OCA. Some of the photographers I have visited are the likes of Dorothea Lang, Sebastian sagrado, Robert Capa, Richard Alvedon and a few more minor photographers who seem to work well in the portrait genre.

Sometimes when looking at photographers´ work I can identify a sense of vision as to why I want to be a photographer. For example, the work of Richard Avedon portrays ordinary people from ordinary backgrounds in small southern American towns. But the quality of the portrait is outstanding in terms of the effect that it has on me personally. It is both sort of comical and at the same time sobering in the way that he portrays such people. Robert Capa holds my attention for the way that he portrayed the Spanish civil war. What particularly effects me is the way the seemingly disastrous circumstances of civil war show people going about their business in such a matter a fact way. As if all were just “a job of work”. Sebastian Sagrado shows his images of people with the same kind of mastery that he shows images of wild animals in the North pole or icebergs floating gracefully in the sea. He has a deftness in his touch and his images resonate with me very deeply. I saw his exhibition whilst visiting Madrid some time ago. After a comment from my tutor Simon, I turned my attention to Hannah star key who’s work I instantly took a liking to. The images that I saw that most provoked thought were those of people in pensive states unawares of the camera. In particular the image of the woman gazing out  seemingly in an office. The camera catches her via a mirror reflection which juxtaposes the environment she is in. This has the effect of sort of show casing her. As if she were in some kind of museum to be looked at albeit unaware herself. For me these candid portrait shots in some way communicate a more interesting photo than a staged portrait.

I am coming to the conclusion that to produce a good staged portrait image you have to have a model that is not too self conscious. Someone who can relax and reveal themselves before the lens. This is not an easy thing to do as the tendency is to want to show who we think we are rather than who we actually are. Thus many portraits can seem vacuous as you are not getting the real person. Or a bit wooden. The aliveness of Alvedon´s portrait seems to stem from the way that he engages with the subject. This reflection is more of a thread and thereby work in progress.


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