On Wednesday 14th August we’ll be launching Publication#2 – the second in the series of our publications. This time around, it’ll be looking specifically at portraiture, with a whole month of portrait based talks and events preceding the launch. You can read all about it here.
On the run up to launch night, the Miniclick team (or at least, the team who are currently in the UK – hope the homeland is treating you well Kristina!) have chosen one of their favourite portraits each. On the launch night we’ll have our roving camera, where we’ll be asking the audience member what their’s is (so, if you’re coming, get thinking!)…
Contact Sheet from Portrait Sitting. Subject: Joyce Little.
What interests me about portraiture, and what keeps drawing me back to it, is that for most of us it’s the first time we ever connect and interact with photography. It provides our foundation. Whether it be looking through family albums or sitting for the school photo this is where our relationship with photography begins.
It means we’re set up, from the very beginning, to treat photographic portraiture as an incredibly personal thing. Even once this relationship develops from looking at portraits of family members and friends in albums, to casting our eyes wider at images of people who are strangers to us, the personal nature of the image remains.
This is a contact sheet from a sitting my Grandmother, Joyce Little, did in the mid 1950’s. My Grandfather, Arthur Little, was in the merchant Navy. Whenever he left for sea he would take photos of Nan, and later of my Mother, with him. I like to imagine that in his time back in England he would take Nan for a new portrait sitting so he had an up to date photo each time.
The photographer here is unknown.
Alec Soth, Bonnie (With a Photograph of an Angel), Port Gibson, Mississippi, 2000, Chromogenic Print, 16×20″
I’m pretty sure this photograph sums up portraiture for me. The sitter, Bonnie, isn’t the central focus of the picture; the image within an image, held proudly in her lap, provides layers of time and framing, which lay bare the reality of the photographic medium. The contrast of the rather drab colours with the gold of the frame and the bright blue sky reinforce this focal point, and highlight the use of photography as a carrier of memory; a means by which individuals preserve moments that are significant to them. This religious relic cradled in Bonnie’s gentle hands is shown without fanfare or dramatic emphasis. We see another time, another place, where the clouds drifted across the sky. Bonnie sits, unflinching, unsmiling, and seemingly proud that, in that one preserved moment, the universe gave her a sign.
Mitch Epstein’s Fathe, from the project “Family Business”
This is a photograph of Mitch Epstein’s father. In Epstein’s project “Family Business” he documents, multi-vocally, the collapse of his fathers enterprise. Near the centre of the project, which features photographs of burnt rooms and empty furniture shops, is this portrait. There is something quite melancholy about this image, it shows his ageing father floating in negative space. I remember when I first saw it and all I could think about was which way the current would take him.
Here is a link to the project, though the book is really the best way to view the series as it has lots of text and transcribed audio interviews
It’s hard to pick a favourite portrait as there are so many, but this is one that’s stayed with me for a long time: “Dovima with Elephants” by Richard Avedon. Way back when I was studying printmaking and not really that connected to photography, we had a copy of “In the American West” in the library and I kept picking it up. For me it was the starting point of my interest in photography, and also how I came to realise that Portrait Photography – if it’s any good – is a collaboration between the sitter and the photographer, and very much a way of communicating.
The photograph of Dovima also has that element of serendipity that I love in photography; sometimes, a fraction of a second, something happens and it just lifts the image. For me in this image it’s the way the elephants move, in combination with her pose and the dress she is wearing. A classic, to use an overused word.