Portrait vs Snapshot

Discussion in 'Ethics and Philosophy' started by blansky, Mar 6, 2003.

  1. blansky

    blansky Subscriber

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    Every day millions of people take photographs of people all around the world. If the main subject matter is a person is this a portrait or is this a snapshot. What constitutes the difference.

    Michael McBlane
     
  2. Donald Miller

    Donald Miller Member

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    I would imagine that it would be the level of expertise. A portrait would tend to portray a person in the most favorable way. That would seem to indicate lighting considerations, camera height in regard to subject height, and the pose of the subject.
     
  3. bmac

    bmac Member

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    Snapshot...
     
  4. bmac

    bmac Member

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    Portrait...
     
  5. Robert Kennedy

    Robert Kennedy Member

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    Yeah, pretty much.

    See, I don't like the term "snapshot". It connotes a shot taken quickly and sort of "shooting from the hip".

    But most snapshots are composed. Not very well mind you, but still.

    To me the difference is in what the image portrays. A Portrait is emotional and tells you something about the person. A snapshot is just an image of a person.

    You can spend less time taking a portrait than a snapshot. The attached image for example is just a picture I took of a friend's brother. He went ahead a bit and when we turned the corner he was in this position. I think it works pretty well as a portrait.
     
  6. Ed Sukach

    Ed Sukach Member

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    What is the difference?

    It would be nice if there was some definite sharp border between the two. Unfortunately, as in most, if not all, of art ... It just doesn't happen. One might say that "portraits" are somewhat more "deliberate", but there are great examples of exceptions to that rule.

    What comes to mind is some of the work of Eugene Atget. A German Tax Official - just standing there - dead center in the frame.... expressionless. Which one? I haven't a clue - either one hell of a good snapshot or a fairly good portriat.
    I can think of lots of others - the work of Cartier-Bresson - "The Decisive Moment" stuff - couldn't all that fit a definiton of "snapshots"?

    Even in my studio - actually *very little* of my work is deliberately posed - I'll start out that way... but very rapidly, the images present themselves - and my involvement is, really, trying to keep up with what the model is presenting on her own.

    Oh what the heck ... It's ALL good, Portraits, Landscapes, Figure Studies, Still Lifes, Snapshots.

    The only "bad" photograph is the photograph not taken.
     
  7. davidghall

    davidghall Member

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    How about this:

    A portrait is made, the chief tool in the process being the mind of the artist. A snapshot is taken, the chief tool in the process being the random order of elements before the camera. One is created by using form, shadow, tone, light, as pieces that fit together as the artist desires. The other is much more dependant on the elements themselves, and not the creativity of the artist.

    In this way, I think there is virtually no difference between a portrait and a landscape, except in the case or the portrait, the "landscape" is more dynamic and moves a helluva lot faster.

    dgh
     
  8. Aggie

    Aggie Member

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  9. Robert Kennedy

    Robert Kennedy Member

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    One is not exclusive of the other.
     
  10. bmac

    bmac Member

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    </span><table border='0' align='center' width='95%' cellpadding='3' cellspacing='1'><tr><td>QUOTE (Aggie @ Mar 6 2003, 12:25 PM)</td></tr><tr><td id='QUOTE'> on this question then, What about Dorthea Lange's Photos. were they portraits, or snapshots of a slice of time and place? </td></tr></table><span class='postcolor'>
    They were portraits, she didn't use a cheesy on camera flash [​IMG]
     
  11. clogz

    clogz Subscriber

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    When talking about Cartier-Bresson's work the term "Decisive Moment" comes to mind. I imagine he spent some time taking in the scene and then waited for the right moment. And..always with the same old Leica and the same old 50mm lens.
     
  12. Donald Miller

    Donald Miller Member

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    Aggie,
    I would classify the work of Dorothea Lange as portraiture. Very effectively composed and communicative.
     
  13. blansky

    blansky Subscriber

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    David that is quite good.

    Let's take Brians example of the baby with the clicker. If he filled the frame and had the light to one side then we have a portrait?

    What about a picture vs a portrait. Say I take a picture of someone that I sit on front of me, is that a portrait?

    Michael McBlane
     
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  15. Donald Miller

    Donald Miller Member

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    I have another observation, now that I think about it. How do you all feel about the effective portrait having the ability to communicate to the viewer an inner essence of the subject. Among the photographers who I have observed as having this ability was Karsh. I think that AA was effective in accomplishing this with his portrait of Edward Weston. Newman seems to be effective as well. Is this a valid appraisal of a portrait?
     
  16. clogz

    clogz Subscriber

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    Psychology does play an important part in portrait - or any - photography.
     
  17. blansky

    blansky Subscriber

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    A lot has been said in the past about the "inner essence" of a picture or portrait. Is it the inner essence when Karsh supposedly took Winstons cigar from his hand causing him to scowl. Is that really an inner essence. If you take a picture of someone in a bad mood and they look mad, is that an inner essence.

    Lets say you take an actor who makes their living pretending they are someone else, and are skilled at bringing up emotions, you photograph him making some sort of face or gesture. Is that an inner essence.

    Perhaps we are just photographing people in their myriad of moods and expressions. and calling that a portrait. Is that truly their essence. Everyone can display these faces.

    Just wondering.

    Michael McBlane
     
  18. Donald Miller

    Donald Miller Member

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    Michael,
    That is an interesting point that you raise. I recognize your right to an opinion and questions that you have formulated for yourself. I sense a point of departure in your ideas from the things that have been written before about capturing an inner essence in a portrait.
    I would guess that no matter what methods that a photographer may use to capture the person photographed's way of relating to the world, it is after all their manner of relating to the world. I think that the accomplished portrait photographer, which I am not, is capable of accomplishing that in ways that I certainly can not.
    To lump all human beings into one catagory of "making faces" is "painting with a very broad brush" in my estimation. Each and everyone of us has very unique mannerisms, facial expressions, and body language that makes us distinct. The ability to bring these unique characteristics forward are what separates a good portrait photographer from someone such as myself. A snapshot photographer may get "lucky" once in awhile. A professional portrait photographer accomplishes this at will.
    I think that the despair on the face of the "Migrant Mother" by Dorothea Lange was unique to that individual at that moment. I think that Ms. Lange exhibited a sensitivity that very few people ever realize in observing what was there before her and capturing that for posterity. I don't think that the despair was induced by Ms. Lange.
    Just as I acknowledge your right to question my observations, I appreciate your recognition of my right to a viewpoint.

    Regards,

    Donald Miller
     
  19. blansky

    blansky Subscriber

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    Donald:
    I agree entirely with what you say and could argue your point equally well as mine. I have "Migrant Mother' on my wall staring back at me as I write this. When I mentioned the actor in my last post I was contemplating whether an accomplished actress could be substituted and this photograph copied. Of course we hope not. But I wonder. I don't think the term making faces was what I really meant. Good actors are certainly doing more than making faces but are the emotions real.

    Another point, take the Churchill portrait by Karsh, if this was just an exective, someone we didn't know, would it have as high acclaim. So the fact that someone has celebrity, does that make it a great portrait.

    Annie Leibowitz's work, almost entirely of famous people, if they were just anybody, would some people still think they were great.

    I often look at famous portraits and see if they pass the test. Is it because we know them through their celebrity, or is it really a great photograph. Could I substitute an unknown face and would the portrait still stand up.

    There is a saying," If you want to be a famous photographer- photograph famous people". There are many celebrity photographer who publish books of their work and they are very well received. But are they great photographs or is it just because the subjects are famous.

    I don't have definite opinions on this. I'm asking. I've spent 27 years photographing people for a living and I contemplate these questions a lot.

    Your opinions are appreciated.

    Michael McBlane
     
  20. Ed Sukach

    Ed Sukach Member

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    </span><table border='0' align='center' width='95%' cellpadding='3' cellspacing='1'><tr><td>QUOTE (bmacphoto.com @ Mar 6 2003, 12:18 PM)</td></tr><tr><td id='QUOTE'></span><table border='0' align='center' width='95%' cellpadding='3' cellspacing='1'><tr><td>QUOTE (Aggie @ Mar 6 2003, 12:25 PM)</td></tr><tr><td id='QUOTE'> on this question then, What about Dorthea Lange's Photos.&nbsp; were they portraits, or snapshots of a slice of time and place? </td></tr></table><span class='postcolor'>
    They were portraits, she didn't use a cheesy on camera flash [​IMG]</td></tr></table><span class='postcolor'>
    I read this in a book on "Lighting":

    "On Camera Flash" :

    To the Artist - The worst form of lighting in the world.

    To the photographer who just won the Pulitzer Prize with it - The best form of lighting in the world.

    Come to think of it - One of my most favorite images of all time was taken with the sole lighting being an on-camera flash - The "Nude in the Tree" by Patrick Demarchelier.
     
  21. docholliday

    docholliday Member

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    To me, a snapshot is an image that is meant to be dated. To show the surroundings of a subject, human or otherwise, which may or may not, but usually is not planned.

    A portrait is an image which is timeless. An object which will stand on it's own 100 years from the day the shutter was fired. Usually to tell a story of the subject in conjunction or connection to it's surroundings.

    Narrow, thin, line, but I usually see one when louping my images.
     
  22. Donald Miller

    Donald Miller Member

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    Michael,

    You have valid questions about whether it is the fact that the subject is recognizable or whether it is the manner in which the subject is manifesting themselves in the photograph that makes for good portraiture.

    I don't know. Certainly, I could say that it is the person that is well known that captures my immediate attention, which in fact it normally does. But, for me, there is a secondary aspect of the portrait of a famous person that engages me. That aspect is the facial expression, posture etc. that is apart from what I have previously seen about that person.

    Was this "something new" a deliberate manipulation of the subject that is somehow less then genuine? I really don't know, and wonder if it really matters because it is still a distinctive part of that person.

    It is almost, to me, that there are several different considerations involved here. Among those are whether the thing accomplished in a portrait is greater then the individual portrayed (Migrant Mother as a case in point...since to me it is indicative of the human condition) this would seem to have a much broader audience impact.

    In addition there is the matter of portraying through a person's facial expressions and body language a part of what that person's way of interacting with life is about. This would seem to be of more limited audience appeal, since it would be most appealing to those who already may know the person photographed.

    Additionally, there is the case of a famous person who may be portrayed in a way that is not normally seen and still indicative of the persons temperment (Churchill by Karsh as an example).

    It is interesting to me that the direction that this thread has taken has made me really question this in ways that I have never done before and I thank you for raising your original question. I don't know that I have effectively expressed my considerations.

    Regards,

    Donald Miller
     
  23. blansky

    blansky Subscriber

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    Donald:
    You use Migrant Mother as your baseline for your argument because you know for a fact that she was impoverished and life was hell. Not only is the picture telling you but also you have background knowledge on this. Could not someone take a picture like this and have it be a total fake and you just assume that she is in misery. Could you not dress someone up as a homeless person. get them to look as pathetic as possible and pass it off as a statement of the victimization of the homeless.

    Lets take Brians example of a snapshot for example. Lets crop it tighter, or not, perhaps photoshop a shadow side or print a shadow side, or perhaps not, and print it in black and white. We now rename the clicker and call it a remote and name the picture "Remote Child".

    The picture perhaps now has become a statement of children being left alone to be brought up by their disinterested parent's TV set. ( I'm sure this is not the case for Brian' child). The child is alone and expressionless. Now doesn't this picture have far more impact that Brians portrait example of a child shot in large format with short depth of field a direction of light and cropped tightly.

    Is this then any different that Avedons Out West series ( that David Hall has admitted has profoundly affected his desire to take portraits) or the Mudmen of New Guinea or the photographs of the Native Americans. They are all shot against a plain background, the subjects are virtually expressionless and they are flat lit. Do we need lines on the faces or different costumes to have it be named a portrait.

    Docholliday has stated that we need surroundings to relate back to the subject, then that would negate Avedon' s Out West series. It would also negate Brian's "portrait" shot but it would add further credence to his "snapshot" of "Remote Child" as being a portrait. IT has far more context.

    What do you think.

    Michael McBlane
     
  24. Donald Miller

    Donald Miller Member

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    Michael,

    I am attempting to understand what your concerns and questions are. You seem to be returning to the matter of realism versus a manufactured portrayal of a subject.

    There is no argument from me that a person could be posed and made up in such a manner as to give a representation that had nothing at all to do with that particular persons real condition. Does that negate it's import as an image? I would have to say "no" it would not negate it at all if, in fact, it was that the photographer wanted to impart a message to the viewer and was able to do that with his portrayal of the subject. If that were the case, how would that be different then a photographer doing a table top study or a landscape that is favorably photographed? It would seem to me that the only difference would be the choice of subject and that a preceding intent existed, on the part of the photographer, to impart a message. Would that be a portrait? I would guess that most would feel that it was a portrait, since it was an image portraying a human being. It, however, would not be based in a realistic depiction of that particular person. It could still be effective, in my estimation, if it portrayed something about the human condition.

    There is another aspect to this, as I see it. That is portraiture in which a photographer wishes to render the person which he is photographing that would be representative of that individual and it may or may not portray some aspect of mankind as a whole. Again, that would seem to me to be protraiture.

    This has gotten quite far afield from your original question of snapshots in comparison to portraits. I don't mind discussing this if this is helpful. I just don't want to be quilty of diverting the subject from your original intent.

    Regards,
    Donald Miller
     
  25. Aggie

    Aggie Member

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  26. Robert Kennedy

    Robert Kennedy Member

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    How about this -

    A snapshot is when you just want to take a picture with no care or knowledge of how it will look. You just want an image.

    A portrait is when you take a picture with care and knowledge of how it will look. You want to convey emotion and feeling and not just have an image.

    See to me that defines the two.

    And it relates to an experience I had recently -

    I went out for Mardi Gras to do some street shooting and because I am apparently ignorant of my past hangovers.

    Now, a guy I work with was also heading downtown for Mardi Gras. I said we'd meet later, have a few drinks, etc.

    Anyway, in the early part of the evening, I was shooting street performers and people in costume. What I did then was mostly portraiture. Without a doubt.

    Later, I was drinking with my friend and some others. Then it was snapshots. Mostly because people kept posing.... [​IMG] But the images don't show anything other than people smiling. Where-as the images I took on the street show people being people and doing things.

    Like the attached shot - Unconventional, but a portrait none-the-less.