Originally Posted by MattKing
I was going to disagree with your descritption but I googled the word at a few online dictionaries all of which had about the same definition:
"The likeness of a person, painted, drawn, or engraved; commonly, a representation of the human face painted from real life."
Although none of the definitions included the word photograph I think the general meaning is clear and does not exclude the chance grab shot. However having shot portraits professionally at one time and having developed a personal preference for a certain type or style I would include one proviso concerning the "true" portrait. That proviso would be that the subject was both an aware and willing participant in the process. Many I'm sure would disagree.
Yasterday at ARTE (French/German sattelite artistic channel) I saw documentary about one German (he has German name and he was talking at German language)photographer who is working in New York, documentary how he photographed people for his book (which I saw in bookstores). I don't remember his name. Not "nobody", he was shown photographing Kaiser (Franz Beckenbauer) who just for that photo shooting came from Mexico to New York. That means serious photographer.
Now, that photographer made setting on street (flashes, background, etc...), even he had assistants around. So, he approached people passing by with next words: "Would you let me to photograph you, you will receive 5 dollars and Polaroid" (meaning Polaroid photo from shooting, not Polaroid camera...
One way of approaching your subject...
"I don't remember his name. "
Could it have been Gerrit Engle? I had an email exchange with him in which he mentioned some project in NY, but didn't give details.
I attended a lecture by Karsh in the late 1970s and, IIRC, that is how he described what happened. Interestingly enough, he also showed us another image that he shot during the same session - a pleasantly smiling Churchill - the effect was certainly much less remarkable.
Originally Posted by livemoa
The lecture was very good. He was very capable of keeping the interested attention of a large auditorium of people. Of course, he did bring slides.
I got to chat briefly with him afterwards - it is one of those memories that stays with me.
Well said, Don, as ever!
Originally Posted by df cardwell
Got me thinking about grab shots as opposed to more posed portraits. I'm not sur eI would always characterize them as empty... they can be quite revealing about the person, or, for that matter, the human condition. Of course, only the most observant among us can make such 'grab' shots. You know... HCB, Helen Levitt, etc.
My son's school sent home these "portraits" that they had made of the kids last month. Not a bad snap, and I'm sure the photographer had a passing interest in the kids... at least to get enough "expression" out of them to sell some prints. Not nearly as revealing as the myriad grab shots I've made of him.
When I'm photographing other people's kids, I'm polite, and try not to carry too much gear. I'll take a spot meter reading instead of incident... sometimes the light meter gets them confused, especially when you stick 'em in front of their faces for an incident reading! I just let them play... and watch. Eventually, they'll get interested in the camera, and give you a good look!
As for strangers, it's something I don't do very much, but if I had to, I'd ask, try to get to know them a bit. Gives me a chance to watch them a little. And get an address.. to send them a print!
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At least one of HCB's famous portraits is a grab shot, the picture of Irene and Frederic Joliot-Curie at their doorway. A portrait session had been arranged and he was expected, but he took that photo as soon as they opened their door and he knew that would be the one he would use.
There is a need to have the confidence to feel legitimate when taking portraits and rather than fight that feeling, I think that you should do whatever you need to feel that you have the right to take someone's picture. If that means using a view camera, hiring a female assistant, taking a portrait photography class at a local college (three examples from the original post), then go for it.
Some people are very sensitive to cameras and paranoid about having their picture taken; in three or four years of doing street photography, the people who have been most offended by my activities are people whom I never even intended to shoot. Just seeing the camera is enough to offend them.
Something I've been planning to try is the method Bruce Davidson mentions that he used for his book "Subway." Since he was using flash in a potentially dangerous environment, he would carry a book of his subway portraits and promise a print in order to make his subjects at ease. Of course, the fact that he had a press permit, that he was a member of Magnum, and that he was a well-known photographer couldn't have hurt!
I've started a couple of threads in the last couple of years about the whole concept of a "portrait".
One was comparing a snap shot to a portrait and the other was a smart ass thing about capturing the "essence" of the subject. If you have no life and wish to plow through then again, here are the threads.
But in my opinion, and I see the word "portrait" all the time here and everywhere else, where someone took a picture of a human face (or a dog face etc) and called it a portrait, it, in most cases it reveals nothing more about the subject than the fact that they have a face.
On the other hand, there are the people that love to rave, "oh my god, you've captured the "essence" of that person", and that leads to a certain amount of nausea from me as well.
In the first place, lets take Karsh's Churchill. Cool portrait. But is it really Churchill or just the way he wished to be represented as a stately old curmudgeon, or was he constipated that day and needed to get this thing over with.
Let's face it. People are multi faceted, multi dimensional, moody and egotistical, and can any picture really capture their "essence". I doubt it. It may capture a mood, a split second expression, a phase of their life, or even the posed, put on expression that they wish to world to see. Is it their "essence". Who the hell knows.
So is a grab shot a portrait, is "churchill" a portrait, does Avedon's parking hillbillies against a white background while standing slack jawed looking into the camera, a portrait? Or is it just some facial muscles and skin stuck in 125 of a second while the shutter is tripped.
Can a camera really capture anything truthful about someone or is it just the viewer slipping their interpretation over the picture and calling it the essence of the subject.
I couldn't think of anything witty to say so I left this blank.
Apparently Karsh removed a cigar from Churchill's grasp just before taking the shot, hence the scowl. Like a lot of major world events, it was all about a cigar . Maybe it is also portrait.
"While you're out there smashing the state, don't forget to keep a smile on your lips and a song in your heart!"
There's just no such thing as honesty/the truth in art, it just doesn't exist. Supposedly Karsh yanked the cigar out of Churchills mouth and as a result he looks pissed, the point is that he could've just as easily look pissed in a way that turned out to look terrible when Karsh took this shot and then the shot would've gone in the wastebasket.
Candids of folks who don't know they're being photographed shot by point nshooters who don't know how to manipulate a photographer aren't the truth either, but they're less manipulative of the subject matter and more honest than the image taken by the master of photography whose waited 6 hours for the light to be just right.
It's impossible to separate the artist from his work, I say deep down, nobody/no artist even wants that, they want to do work that's 'well done', 'interesting',..........Ansel Adams or Avedon, a perfectionist, somebody meticulous, photographing anybody, anything, anywhere, getting the most interesting image, is the exact opposite of the truth cuz when things look bad, that's part of the socalled 'truth' too.
The truth is a setting/landscape where the conditions look like shit, while Ansel Adams was waiting for it to look different, what he/we look at and choose not to take is just as much a part of whatever honesty or truth you're after as what you did take.
Every photographic image ever taken only provides a small slice/wisp of what was actually there to be photographed, every photograph, is an illusion.
I think it's taking photography too seriously, when when folks start to think that a photograph can be anything more than a convincing illusion, one of my portraits I'm most proud of, where the sitter has this look, she looked for only a mircosecond before she busted up because of a joke she heard while we were shooting, the moment I shot doesn't reflect in any way her real mood, I'm not telling anybody what she really was thinking when I shot her and some folks have asked, cuz it's NOT IMPORTANT, I got the LOOK I WANTED, that's what was important, I wasn't after the truth/an attempt to convey her honest feelings, photography/portrait photograhy is nothing more than interesting subject matter done well visually, and you pick and choose, dodge and burn, crop, reframe, bias the exposure, to get that.
People shooting is as much about you as it is about the people you want to shoot, if you got a knack for it, you'll just know when to ask, and when to start shooting.
If people don't feel threatened by you, uneasy around you and your camera, many, not all, will 'let you in' their space, and give folks credit, they'll look at you and make an instant judgement, if you see well enough to be a photographer, you'll see well enough to know whether the look on their faces means 'yes' or go away, when you approach.