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  1. #1
    Sjixxxy's Avatar
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    LF Portraits feel like Voyeurism

    One of my younger friends asked me to shoot some of her High School senior portraits for her. So last weekend I packed up my Speed Graphic(How many High shcoolers get their photos done on 4x5 these days?), Tri-pod, box of film, and out we went.

    I have never shot portraits with a 4x5 before, so it was a fun experience. However, After only a few set-ups, I noticed something. Observing someone on the ground glass feels very voyeuristic. I thought it was a very different feeling to be only several feet away from a person, looking at them strait in the eyes, and having them be looking strait back, but to not have that look of "I'm staring at someone", or "This guy is staring at me" register on their face.

    Anyone else ever pick up on this sensastion? It was definitly somethign I've never expereince while shooting before.
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  2. #2
    Bill Hahn's Avatar
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    I recently had my first experience with 4x5 portraiture this past April, with a difficult and reluctant subject, my mother (age > 80). But after setting up the camera, I prefocused and premetered before i asked her to sit in a chair. And I stood to one side and talked to her before hitting the release (I was shooting polaroids) - so after each shot I had to insert a new polaroid sheet - and she tolerated this for about 20 minutes.

    And I noticed some things - some of my shots of her reminded me of Weston's "Tina Reciting" shots of Tine Modotta - eyes closed, mouth speaking.

    But my favorite shot was when I got the bright idea of saying something funny as I hit the release - and I have this shot of a perfectly exposed/focused chair back with my mother's blurred laughing face passing out of the frame. It's my favorite portrait.

    Yes, there is a difference when you have the camera to your face, between you and the subject, and when you don't.

    Anyway, hope this addresses your post. In any case, cheers....

    --Bill H.
    "I bought a new camera. It's so advanced you don't even need it." - Steven Wright

  3. #3

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    Sjixxxy: I never had that sensation... perhaps it was because I used a 150mm lens on 4x5, so I wasn't TOO far back. Actually, it was an environmental portrait of a brother and sister of a wealthy family. I found the detachment of using the 4x5 to be a real advantage, at least in this case. Because it was neither too "in your face" nor too far back, there was a certain ease to the whole situation. As Bill inferred, when you set up the shot and get out from under the dark cloth, you can converse with the subject, they can get relaxed. Hold the cable release behind your back so they don't pick up the cue that you are making an exposure.

    Ansel used to define a good portrait (for him) as "the face in repose", i.e., not attempting to be a portrait subject. Of course, Karsh' portrait of Winston Churchill proves the exception to the rule. Karsh had done something so onerous to Churchill (removing his cigar from the scene!) that Churchill glowered and that genius Karsh caught the decisive moment.

    Portraits with LF are a different process; it takes experience to adapt to it.

    Earl
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  4. #4

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    I've not had the voueristic experiance your asking about but wanted pipe in any way. I really like doing portraiture with a 4x5. Really think it is condusive to conversational portraits. Part of what happens by having to count on instincts with respect to focus and the extra time caused by loading and unloading film you have an opportunity to watch your sitter within the environment and listen or engage. The slower process seems to allow people to settle into a pose that may give you something more than you have orchestrated. Also because it is slower they will be less apprehensive when you move over the set to adjust a light which accomidates a slight variation in their pose. It just seems there is more time with larger format to observe and react.
    Stop trying to get into my mind, There is nothing there!

  5. #5
    David A. Goldfarb's Avatar
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    I find portraiture with the view camera more interactive as well, than portraiture with an SLR, for all the reasons Tom mentions. With the 8x10" or 11x14" camera, all the more so, because DOF is that much thinner, and the camera is more imposing.

    More generally, I think there is always a kind of voyeurism associated with portraiture. Normally you wouldn't be able to scrutinize someone's face in the way you can when examining a portrait, whether painted or photographed.
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  6. #6
    Alex Hawley's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by David A. Goldfarb
    I find portraiture with the view camera more interactive as well, than portraiture with an SLR, for all the reasons Tom mentions. With the 8x10" or 11x14" camera, all the more so, because DOF is that much thinner, and the camera is more imposing.

    More generally, I think there is always a kind of voyeurism associated with portraiture. Normally you wouldn't be able to scrutinize someone's face in the way you can when examining a portrait, whether painted or photographed.

    I agree. In my opinion, photographers are of a voyeuristic nature anyway. Its just a matter of time before each one of us experiences it.

    Portraiture is not one of my regular genres, but the few I've done with family and friends using the 8x10, have been pleasurable experiences for all. Each person has remarked about how different it feels sitting in front of the 8x10 versus a 35mm or digi-whizamabob.
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  7. #7
    TheFlyingCamera's Avatar
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    I think part of the voyeuristic feeling with large format comes from the fact that you're at least doing your basic composition under the darkcloth, so you feel somewhat invisible, or at least separated from them, because you're looking through this (not-so) tiny window, without any other context around you other than what you see on the ground glass.

  8. #8
    Sjixxxy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Earl Dunbar
    As Bill inferred, when you set up the shot and get out from under the dark cloth, you can converse with the subject, they can get relaxed. Hold the cable release behind your back so they don't pick up the cue that you are making an exposure.
    True. While focusing I'd see some great expressions and posteurs that made me wish I was using a big old Graflex D to just snap away when I see them. They knew enough that until I loaded the film, no picture was going to be taken, so they just acted natural, but as soon as I'd load the film and have the release in hand she would snap to attention and go into pose mode. Then I'd sit and said until she'd give up, then trip the shutter.

    Remind me next time to just manually pop a flash or something so they think I've taken the photo. Then shoot the real one the moment they go back into to relax mode.
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