Valid to who (or whom, whichever is gramattically correct)?
I have a favorite subject who disagrees every time I declare a portrait of her as "valid" (looking just like her). She will always find a flaw, which I believe is a God-given feature. The more posed and fake a portrait of her is, the more she thinks it looks like her.
Rankin has a big reputation, but his portraits leave me absolutely cold. The majority of the ones I've looked at appear as though they are to accompany an article in a magazine (which may be the case) and rarely capture anything I would think of as real about the subject. They don't move me, give me pause to ponder, or make me feel much at all, other than, yes, it's a good/clever image, but, for me, they lack any real emotion.
"Migrant Mother" by Dorothea Lange is more thought provoking than all of Rankins portraits combined I think.
I'd say you judge the success of a portrait not on its accuracy, but in its resonance. The two may or may not be mutually inclusive. Think of the Karsh portrait of Churchill, after the cigar snatch - it carries a very potent sense of Churchill, which only tells you ONE thing about the man - far from a complete picture, or even the most dominant thing about him. Ditto the famous portrait of JP Morgan with the "dagger" chair-arm, or the Arnold Newman photo of Krupp, lit with "monster-lighting". Or the Avedon portrait of the Duke and Mrs. Simpson right after he told them he just ran over a dog on the way to their sitting. You look at any of those portraits and they hit you. Or even the Migrant Mother above - it's a powerful portrait, but the accuracy of it is questionable. Dorothea Lange captioned the photo with some exaggerated/inaccurate information to tell a story about rural poverty that didn't necessarily apply to the woman in the photo. Doesn't lessen the impact of it, and the emotional truth it captures. But historical truth? not so much, and to a great degree irrelevant.
Well, not a very decisive or discriminating statement... but completely accurate!
Originally Posted by TheFlyingCamera
I think a good portrait does not capture a singular instance of the subject's existence, rather it should show the fervor that resides within.
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I like this.
Originally Posted by Chris Lange
“The contemplation of things as they are, without error or confusion, without substitution or imposture, is in itself a nobler thing than a whole harvest of invention”
Seconded. I think Chris has the right of it. Reading that post, all I can think of is Steve McCurry's NG cover. Chris' statement exemplifies why that photograph works (among a myriad of other reasons...).
Originally Posted by cliveh
"Once the amateur's naive approach and humble willingness to learn fades away, the creative spirit of good photography dies with it. Every professional should remain always in his heart an amateur." - Alfred Eisenstadt
It really matters who the portrait is for, too. I'm sure that many photographs that we see in museums, by famous photographers, are commissioned works. Somebody wanted a photograph, and the photographer hired tried to appease.
A portrait of a young child, as a gift to the child's mother, would be approached in an entirely different way than say a portrait for a TV documentary about World war 2. Two completely different aims, but without knowing that we'd look at them with the same pair of eyes.
To me, the appreciation of a portrait is an individual journey. Some speak to me and others don't. Others might have the exact opposite experience. One man's ceiling is another man's floor, according to Paul Simon, and I tend to agree. We don't all appreciate the same things, hence it is, again, a matter of subjectivity.
That is, unless you have trained to look at works of art objectively, which is a very different skill, but that's more of a value assessment than an emotional journey.
"Make good art!"
- Neil Gaiman
"...the heart and mind are the true lens of the camera".
- Yousuf Karsh
"We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit".
Found who I was talking about: Bliorg
Originally Posted by Bill Burk
One useful measure of a portrait (not a requirement but something you can judge) is whether you can show it to someone and they can recognize the person.
I have a print of a friend, which I thought was a great portrait. But over dinner, talking with a friend who is sending her daughter on an upcoming camping trip... My wife mentioned his name. Our friend didn't immediately remember who we were talking about, so I went to get the print.
Showed it to her, and since a baseball cap shaded his face, she couldn't recognize him - even though the portrait reflects his essence TO ME, it failed to help show who we were talking about.
Got out the 4x5 film from the freezer and am going to load up some Grafmatics... Got another shot at portraiture on the camping trip.