As the most technologically advanced era to date, the world has the ever present ability to capture, publish and view portraits at an astonishing rate. Whether they be for passports, profile pictures or social publications, the portrait is everywhere in our day to day life. For me, this effortless capability poses the question; do we take portraits for granted? Do we ever stop to think why we’re capturing a portrait? Or, the question I am most interested in; what makes a portrait?David Bate summarises in his publication ‘The Key Concepts: Photography’ that a portrait comprises of four main components; the face, the pose, the clothing and location in which the photograph is shot’. Whilst this is, generally speaking, true; I believe there are many other factors to be considered when looking at the elements that make up a portrait that perhaps Bate didn’t include. Another approach with regards to the general theory suggested by Bate is that sometimes, one or more of these four elements don’t add to the audience’s general understanding of the photograph or, are not present in the image at all.This appears to the case in William Egglestons’ ‘Untitled’ from his series Los Alamos.
People use these criteria and make snap judgements when looking at photographs, whether this is on a subconscious level or not- although it is usually the former. However, we forget that a photograph is simply a compression of the three dimensional world and that there are many contextual factors that we need to incorporate in order to fully understand an image.One of the most important factors in my opinion is the discriminating decisions we make, as photographers, when capturing an image i. . what we choose to include in the frame and what we choose to omit. Another thing I believe Bate hasn’t featured in his theory of what makes a portrait is the post shoot processing of a particular image.
For centuries photographers have been able to use advanced dark room techniques in order to create trickery among the audience from double exposures to painted developer. To now, in an age where technology is at a height and forever developing, this ability to deceive has reached a new extent.An image can be edited and Photoshopped completely beyond recognition in the most believable manner that only the trained eye can distinguish between reality and an absolute distortion. Ruud Van Empel created a whole series entitled World# during which he used extensive amounts of Photoshop to edit the image into a cartoon like state.
It is for this reason that I wonder how do we know that the judgements we make based on face, pose, clothes and location are justified when these factors could have been tampered with?The final point that I wish to discuss in this essay is the use of lighting in an image and the ways in which it can determine the viewer’s perception of a person, scenario, building and so on. Since the arrival of faster film types in the 1920’s, photographers are able to experiment with various and increasingly abnormal lighting uses. By creating intense shadows, a photographer is able to obscure parts of the image which may alter our comprehension of it, for example a strong shadow has conations of sinisterness or mystery and seductiveness.This is the case for all lighting in images because our judgement is subliminally altered due to the way society teaches us to associate certain emotions or characteristics with light and happy or dark and evil. Bate mentions in ‘The Key Concepts: Photography’ that when looking at the expression on the face in portraiture we take into consideration the eyes, mouth, even hair and we use these components to measure ‘’… mood, temperament and character in relation to ethnicity, sex and age, and for their ‘attitude’.
With this statement in mind I can’t help but wonder; how are we supposed to measure these characteristics which are so vital in understanding an image and the person within it when the face is absent or obscured? Some may often argue that a photograph cannot be truly classified as a portrait in the absence of a face. In many ways I do agree but having said this, in his book ‘The Photograph’, Graham Clarke discusses Robert Mapplethorpe’s Apollo (left) and states that ‘’..
. it is not an image of a person, an individual or personality, but of a sculpture, and a sculpture which is the apotheosis of an ideal image of manhood. ’In other words even when there is no face in an image, or in this case no person at all, you can insinuate a lot about human traits and characteristics using Bates’ other criteria. Since a portrait is William Egglestons’ ‘untitled’ displayed on the following page is a direct example of where even though the audience is not presented with the woman’s face I would nevertheless deem this to be a portrait since we are still able to use Bates’ other criteria to establish what the woman may be like or what her situation may be. Location is one aspect that says a lot about this particular person in question.The eating establishment she has been photographed in seems to be fairly understated and appears almost lower class judging by the rather basic decor.
With regards to Bates’ other points, clothing, seems at a curious contrast to her surroundings. With a fancy up do, delicately held in place by pretty hair accessories as well as donning glamorous looking jewellery, the woman could be one of two things; out of her usual surroundings or out of her usual attire in order for a special occasion or, perhaps in denial of her true class.I’m inclined to think the later as it is quite a common occurrence for people, especially women to attempt to fool people into thinking they are wealthier than they are by denying their identity.
We can even read something from her body language and the way she appears quite relaxed whilst seeming poised and elegant. In this instance, I don’t think the presence of the subjects face in this portrait would add a great deal more to our interpretation of this image because there is sufficient evidence using only three of Bates’ criteria to come to a conclusion and still consider the image as a portrait.As well as the use of photoshop, the audience must be careful not to be misled by the discriminating decisions made by the photographer through the use of framing, which he or she can use to manipulate the entire meaning of a photograph. Whilst we can make judgments based on the four points provided by David Bate, we must stop to wonder what extends beyond the edges of the image before us. This also ties in with the fact that photographs are simply a snapshot in time and the only sense we are able to utilise in our analysis of an image is sight.The book ‘World Photography’ is a compilation edited by Bryn Campbell consisting of some of the greatest contemporary photographers known to date, discussing their views on photography. In the publication, Arnold Newman is quoted saying ‘I’m convinced that any photographic attempt to show the complete man is nonsense, to an extent.
We can only show, as best we can, what the outer man reveals; the inner man is seldom revealed to anyone…’This statement backs up my idea that a portrait is merely a freeze frame during which the subject deliberately portrays themselves only as they wish to be depicted for all to see.That nobody knows what the reality was before or after the photograph was taken. But what we do know is that only the precious few are willing and comfortable to so openly display themselves in the brutally honest manner that exposes them, warts and all, in a medium so ephemeral and for all to see.
The photograph presented to the left was captured by Rudd Van Empel in his ‘World #1 Series’ from 2005. When looking at Bates key concepts and seeing if they apply to this photograph, I would say all can be applied.The clothes of the young girl are exceptionally white, implying either a certain purity about the young girl or rather the ironic absence of it. So it is that David Bate is correct in this case in his theory that clothing does in fact add to our comprehension of an image. Something else that we can read from this image is the facial expression. The girl appears to be glaring at something outside the frame which creates the ambiguity of what it could be that is causing such a reaction from the young girl.I would hazard a guess that this facial expression is supposed to evok e the idea that she gives the impression that she has just been told off and is therefore sulking.
The pose is fairly neutral so I don’t think we can really read much in this respect although you could argue that we can make a judgement in an absence of body language that indicates certain personality traits or current mood. The girl is clearly in a jungle environment although it is difficult to make much of a judgement based on her surrounding because reality has been confused through the use of photoshopping.It is both an ‘idealised’ image of a child, and perhaps childhood; as well as appearing entirely constructed and artificial which could perhaps be a representation of the photographer’s ideology of youthfulness.
Having studied this photo and taking Bates’ four main elements into consideration to make the judgements I have, I am still very much aware that these judgements may well, and most probably do, differ to another individual due to personal experiences or teachings that cause a difference in opinion.However, I wonder how anyone can feel justified in their views when we know that the image has been tampered with. This concept is regularly discussed by many photographers and Dingo Felluga rightly argues that ‘we have lost all ability to make sense of the distinction between nature and artifice’. Admittedly there are cases, especially in the advertising industry, where the use of photoshopping techniques aren’t carried out quite so liberally as this and are more discrete; so we forget that what we ascertain from an image may have been artificially produced to make us think in a certain manner.The photograph to the right, for example, part of the advertising campaign for Gucci’s perfume, designed to make the audience believe that with the purchase of the perfume a beautiful body, an expensive lifestyle- as indicated by the jewellery, a gorgeous face and a handsome man are to accompany it.
However, we forget that the skin of the two people has been highly smoothed and edited and the actual structure of the human body has most likely been altered to remove any sign of imperfection.David Bate doesn’t mention that a portrait can be tampered with in his book ‘The Key concepts’, but I feel it is possibly the most vital thing we must consider before reading an image. We must always remember that nowadays, anything can be artificially altered in both the dark room and Photoshop beyond our recognition to manipulate the thought processes that occur when reading an image. Whilst Bate makes a very valid theory, again I feel there are certain elements that he hasn’t included that are rather integral to the audiences’ reading of an image.The point I feel in particular is fundamental when we capture a photo is lighting. As a photographer, I always aim to take into consideration the lighting effects used during a shoot. Whether it be a natural light source or studio lights the mood which I wish to create and how I wish to portray the subject matter very much depends on this factor. The image to the right is just one of many photos taken of Boris Karloff who played the original Frankenstein back in 1931.
This image and many others like it seem to take the same approach in capturing the essence of Frankenstein and creating a certain effect on the viewer. The approach seems to be the artistic use of lighting. The way the image is lit from underneath casts strong shadows across the face which seems to somewhat distort the facial features of the subject.
It also gives the impression of dominance and superiority which in this case would be insinuating that the character is strong and powerful which therefore intimidates the audience.Lighting can say a lot about a person and their status; for instance the image below by Arnold Newman taken of Alfred Krupp who was the owner of the armaments factory in which he is photographer in. So, to go through David Bate’s motions we must start by looking at the face. His facial expression suggests he is a rather ominous character which is conveyed mostly through his eyes that seem to hold a hint of a smile. His face also appear to by oddly symmetrical, making him appear unnatural and therefor frightening.The clothes in which he is photographed are sharp and tailored which has always had the connotations of business, authority and power as well as indicating wealth and professionalism. With regards to location which is clearly quite an industrial looking building appears cold, characterless and unwelcoming adds to the impression that Krupp is not a friendly or well-meaning character. By looking at his body language, in particular the interlocking hands, Krupp looks speculative; as if plotting or scheming.
He sits with broad shoulders which also emphasise his power and confidence making him appear quite an intimidating character.This particular image has likenesses to the cartoon character Montgomery Burns from television series; The Simpsons. This could suggest that this is a stereotypical stance for a villainous person with regards to face, body language and clothing. However, whilst all of this is the making of this portrait as it clearly portrays the character, I believe that the lighting is also fundamental in this particular image.
As mentioned previously, the lighting from underneath casts strong shadows across the face giving Krupp the menacing image he usually emanates.Referencehttp://stylefrizz.com/201008/evan-rachel-wood-is-gucci-guilty-perfume-ad-campaign-girl/