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  1. #1

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    Soul capture and the defining moment

    So today, while getting a haircut, I began thinking about portraiture and what common threads there are in a truly fine portrait. In every kind process there is a end customer that has to find value in what your providing, and if you focus on meeting those needs, youll be successful. So in a portrait, its the person in front of the camera that matters. Like in fashion, its the clothes... but in this case its the person.

    I think there are two common qualitys that make a sucesfull portrait from the viewpoint of the your subject:
    1- You make them look great.
    2- Somehow, you capture some part of their personality in a shot. You show them in their true, yet flattering way.

    I think #1 is about skill and experience, and is doable, but #2 is harder. If you dont know the person , or just met them, how do you capture their true essence in film?

    What got me thinking about this was recently I was looking at my portfolio, and theres one common series of photographs that EVERY one comments on. They were taken on 35mm film, nothing fancy. The model is striking of course, but not any more striking than most models working today. The difference was that I was in love with this woman, and what I captured was that moment. I somehow transferred those feelings from my body, through the lens onto film.

    That leads me to my question, what if anything do you all do to capture someones soul on film, assuming you dont know the subject well? Do you try to have coffee with them first? Talk on the phone? make out? What?

  2. #2
    Chazzy's Avatar
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    I think that the interaction with the photographer is everything. The Karsch book that I have mentions that in some cases he stayed for days with his subjects. But apparently he was able to engage people in a few minutes when he had no other choice.
    Charles Hohenstein

  3. #3
    keithwms's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by bibowj View Post
    I think there are two common qualitys that make a sucesfull portrait from the viewpoint of the your subject:
    1- You make them look great.
    2- Somehow, you capture some part of their personality in a shot. You show them in their true, yet flattering way.
    The obvious counterexample being Karsh's photograph of Alfred Krupp... not sure if we should really consider that to be a portrait though :rolleyes:

    ~~~

    The flip side of what you are asking, i.e. how to get to know someone well enough in advance to try to gain entry into their emotional inner sanctum, that approach might well blur the line between objectivity and subjectivity. It will depend on your subject and your intentions, which could be journalistic or glamour.... or you might have some other more nuanced intention somewhere within the vast artistic expanse in between.

    Some photographers simply seem to have more innate ability to read people's expressions and know when the subject is in their element and expressing themselves in a way that makes a compelling photograph.

    As for me, I tend to shy away from most direct forms of portraiture; I suppose it's because I find it quite invasive, and really requiring an emotional connection. Being a scientist at heart I tend to cling to the (silly?) notion that I am merely observing a 'found' subject and not changing it or influencing it in any way. Anyway we all have something to work on!

    ~~~

    Just a piece of trivia, I recall when reading about early photography of the native Americans, it was quite problematic to take their photographs because many of them considered the eyes to, literally, be the doorway to the soul and thus found the photographs very invasive and 'soul capturing' or perhaps even stealing. Indeed one does not see smiling native Americans in any of those early photographs. Anyway, just an interesting aside, and what I read might well have been coloured by some cultural bias.
    Last edited by keithwms; 08-15-2009 at 11:39 AM. Click to view previous post history.
    "Only dead fish follow the stream"

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  4. #4
    lmn
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    The difference was that I was in love with this woman, and what I captured was that moment. I somehow transferred those feelings from my body, through the lens onto film.

    Don't have any answers for you, but just had to say that is a very beautiful thought. Though maybe there is an answer in there...find a way to feel love for every person we are photographing?

    Look forward to hearing how others do this.

  5. #5
    Jeff L's Avatar
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    I read and agreed with a comment made by (I think JL Sieff) that a portrait is not one of the subject, but a portrait of the photographer/artist.

  6. #6
    SuzanneR's Avatar
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    [QUOTE=keithwms;846245]The obvious counterexample being Karsh's photograph of Alfred Krupp... not sure if we should really consider that to be a portrait though :rolleyes:


    I believe you mean Arnold Newman's portrait of Krupp?

    And I'm inclined to agree, a great portrait needn't necessarily flatter. The best one's always seem to reveal something essential about the sitter. And it really is all about the relationship you have as a photographer with the sitter.

    That said, I think it's possible to make a good portrait by being more observer than engaging the sitter in a lot of small talk. It's all in how you relate to other people that is true to yourself.

  7. #7
    keithwms's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by SuzanneR View Post
    I believe you mean Arnold Newman's portrait of Krupp?
    Yep, sorry! I guess I had Karsh on the brain from his classic Churchill.
    "Only dead fish follow the stream"

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  8. #8
    benjiboy's Avatar
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    I think Keith means this one http://digitaljournalist.org/issue0312/an01.html wherere he has lit him from the sides and below to make him look evil, which was the way Newman saw him.
    Last edited by benjiboy; 08-16-2009 at 05:37 PM. Click to view previous post history.
    Ben

  9. #9
    keithwms's Avatar
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    Yes, that was the one I had in mind of course; apologies for the confusion.

    I wonder what Karsh would have done with Krupp, hmm!

    Anyway, on the subject of communication, some portrait subjects simply clam up when a lens is pointed in their direction. So it's important that the camera not become something that separates the subject from the photographer.
    "Only dead fish follow the stream"

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  10. #10
    Rolleiflexible's Avatar
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    Gosh, I just wrote a book about this.

    For what it's worth, I seem to do more
    effortless work with strangers. Making
    a portrait with an intimate takes more
    work for me, with not necessarily more
    success. I think it has something to do
    with cutting through the overtones and
    assumptions of the relationship, and
    finding a colder eye to bring to the frame.

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