The portrait...and the subject

The portrait...and the subject

 “….I have nothing of him..not even a photo …”   -- The Titanic byJ. Cameron

If you could ask a thousand people what a portrait is we would certainly have an endless series of “explanations”. That is a foregone conclusion.
But only a great, very great Photographer, such as Richard Avenon
(1923-2004) has given it a didactic definition: “…a portrait is a photo of a person who knows he is getting photographed..”


At the same time you have Ethics and Techniques. Lapidary. Now,
without entering for your fortune in things that have become outdated such as portraits, portraits of light, times and useful diaphrams ( all things that a photographer took not in the ‘800, but at the beginning of this
century, who would have said it? – had to keep in mind)still remains the famous “why” however,, don’t forget, justifies your “how”.


Fortunately however those rules no longer exist even though a resistent minority insists on respecting them. We must howevere, in order to simplify the argument, separate the Portrait’s matter of contention into two sections: subject and photographer.


We remove the matter of contention by saying that there are hundreds of interpretations on the psicology of those being photographed which demonstrate, even scientifically, the..operative difficulty. It is difficult for the subject to become an object, not the fault of who is getting portrayed ( though very often ) but of their insecurity on how they appear.


On how the others see us, on who will see us and more uncertainties make us for most of the time appear empty and anonymous validates the mantra of the photographer which is   “ the picture isn’t good because I know
I’m getting photographed, take a picture when I’m not looking
” Easy isn’t it?


Since the look is the soul’s’s true that today in a world of “people”.. “all officiants following the rite of self-certification of their own existence … “as a network “..all faithfull followers of religious appearance, spiritual discipline amongs the most demanding, which foresees an authentic mystical state,..” ( Gianni Biondillo – con la morte nel Cuore), to stand os someone’s camera, releases the atavistic spring in us, which reminds us that native American who used to think that the photographer could capture their souls whilst taking a picture.


Even today, when you have to pose for something more than a selfie ( maybe with your heart shaped lips turned at the phone) all of us, men and women, have a real panic attack. An interior more or less concealed.


The ball is then passes to the photographer, portraising in this case, that knows why and how ( less important “how” I say with tears in my eyes) and who can make the subject overcome their uncertaincies which could be be confused with not being photogenic (?) in front of the definitive product.


In books relating to the History of Photography one reads about the frustrations of one of the biggest creator of this extraordinary “technicians”, Nadar, when some of his clients recognized themselves in portraits…that weren’t theirs.


While the Big Inventor (50%) Daguerre narrated with enthusiasm how one of his client,a gentleman, used to leave home without not adjusting his tie ..before his own daguerreotype(!). Leonardo Da Vinci, whose artistic capacity (and not only)no one doubted , wrote: "one doesn’t paint
physical characters, one paints what’s in your mind
”, 500 years ahead of the actual tendency. In fact, there being no doubts whatsoever on similarity, given the monstrous potential regarding reproduction of the
typical reality of digital photos, by now a diffused opinion (intellectual), that today portrait value derives, almost totally, from the photographer’s final result , capacity and sensitivity.


In fact, whilst portraits from the beginning of photography were “ largely used by the industrial middle class who, as new leading class in France could not but entrust the ritualization (portrait) of their own social standing to technical means, to a “machine”, even transferring
the operator’s ability to the machine which copied, almost naturally and autonomously, the light ( in fact Disder, one of the first to industrialize passport size photos on a large scale, business cards, became a
millionaire in a very short time) that today the portrait is received as “verification of one’s daily nature or proof of identity in particular or cusomary places”.


In fact, despite a couple of centuries, truly revolutionary, on the communication aspect, remains unoved even today, the desire to appear, to be. Human nature hasn’t change and man are still interested and,
above all, in himself and all that belongs to him.


Even if “..the nature that talks to a camera is a different nature to the one who talks to the eye; especially different for this, that in place of
a space elaborated consciously by man, there is a space elaborated unconsciously
…” W. Bejamin L’Opera d’arte nell’epoca della sua riproducibiltà tecnica” PBE.


Which solution then, in light of all this, can make a succesfull creation of a portrait ( in a satisfactory way, attractive, communicating) ? The project.


The real relationship with the subject. To escape from the usual clichet of the beautiful photo (all camera’s now take beautiful pictures) for something that small cameras could never have. The heart. The mind. The soul. Behold the winning ingredient.


Portrait in 2014:  always less representation and more self-portraits ? 

Till next time with the "Portrait" of the landscape.   Pico de Paperis
(aka Gigi Lusini)


Reccommended readings on the subject “portrait”

Gilardi – “Wanted” ed. Mazzetta

R. Barthes – “La Chambre Claire” ed. Gli Struzzi

Elio Grazioli “The Body and Human Figure in Photography” ed. B. Mondadori