What Is A Portrait ?

I’ve just been looking through the Portrait Salon 2018 entries and have to admit to being a little disappointed , I was hoping to see more works that challenged the traditional definition of portraiture, instead I was met with too many very competent formal editorial style pictures of people created by authors who appeared to be thinking deep “inside the box” ?

I thought this show was about contemporary portraiture and maybe it is, although if this is representative of creative British contemporary portraiture in 2018 I am saddened by the lack of progress, as I see few new approaches here.

The generic fine art flat portrait lighting is well represented here , the cliche lives on and is thriving.

This is what the Oxford English Dictionary definition has to say .

NOUN

  • 1A painting, drawing, photograph, or engraving of a person, especially one depicting only the face or head and shoulders.

    ‘a portrait of George III’

    as modifier ‘a portrait painter’

    More example sentences

    Synonyms

    1. 1.1 A representation or impression of someone or something in language or on film or television.‘the writer builds up a fascinating portrait of a community’More example sentencesSynonyms

  • 2usually as modifier Denoting a format of printed matter which is higher than it is wide.

    ‘you can print landscape and portrait pages in the same document’

    Compare with landscape (sense 2 of the noun)

    More example sentences

Origin

Mid 16th century: from French, past participle (used as a noun) of Old French portraire ‘portray’.

Pronunciation

portrait

/ˈpɔːtreɪt//ˈpɔːtrət/

As modern creatives I would expect a more informal approach to be adopted , especially by those who are shooting in a Street Photography style. Definition 1.1 appears to be the most useful to those of us hoping to adopt a interpretive less literal approach , dare I suggest a abstract interpretation ?

Remember that a few carefully selected sentences are capable of creating a descriptive portrait , portraiture does not even have to be a visual work , does the subject of the portrait have to be present at the shoot in order to capture a “successful” likeness / representation ?

Let me put my cards on the table I’ve made more than my fare share of portraits in the past, motivated by money , as soon as a portrait becomes a commissioned work the creative visual cuffs are on , especially if your client is the subject ! Portraiture is weighed down with the expectations of formality, history and vanity, we need to shake this off in order to explore and realise the creative potential of contemporary portraiture.

Some of you will be familiar with the picture below, it is a genuine street capture and features a passing stranger , the surprise for me is that I see / interpret this as a selfie ?

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Self Portrait Of A Stranger , 2014

I have entered one of my more challenging portraits into the Portrait Salon , not because I’m in search of glory, but because I hope to motivate myself & others to explore the definition of “Portrait” and help redefine how we approach the photographic representations of others, our efforts do not have to be reflective as huge opportunities of interpretation and representation exist in this field.

A portrait could define a country, a group or a moment in time , the ambiguity of definition should be seen as a opportunity to investigate the gendre, photography describes how things look by default , therefore as photographers we should be bringing more than photographic description to the party , we should be bringing more of ourselves to our photographic interpretations of others , or conversely learn from the John Myers school of portraiture and maybe bring substantially less of ourselves ?

We have a obligation to move things on for those who follow, we can’t go on producing and consuming portraits that are still influenced by the visual sensibilities of Renaissance Art and aesthetics that existed before photography was invented. We are living through a time when photographic depictions of others and ourselves are part of everyday culture, this frees serious photographers from having to record the mundane and should create opportunities to make work with a deeper significance .

I apologise to those of you who came to this blog expecting a answer to the “What is a portrait” question, as I have no answer to that question, although I’m having great fun exploring the question with my Street Photography . I’m not sure I have ever written a piece that contains more question marks !

Good luck to my fellow contributors and organisers at Portrait Salon for the 2018 project.

I have deliberately not added my entry here as the vote is still open .

I hope your next portrait shoot helps you to rethink, reshape & redefine your personal contemporary portrait definition .

Keep it real .

Facing The Wrong Way !

We spend our childhoods learning the rules and how to fit in , we then as teenagers rebel a little against the establishment, our parents and whatever else gets in the way of our personal, quite often crazy life choices before going full circle and accepting the full responsibility and the inevitability of adulthood and the rules ! …… Unless ?

A few exceptions to the above principles are possibly madness , criminality or creativity , creativity is hopefully the one that those of you reading this are suffering from . A large portion of creativity within your soul is without doubt a blessing but it can also be a curse, especially if you want to fit in and just get on with the day to day. The ability to see “the other way” a “better way” is quite often unsettling to others and a pain in the ass if you possess a level of integrity that insists you must be true to yourself. !

I was reminded of seeing things in a different way to others yesterday as I made a capture of a crowd watching a event , as they looked beyond me I found them much more interesting than the Civil War Re-enactment that was going on over my shoulder . Not only did this crowd feature folk of different genders, ages and religions , it also appeared to feature a lady from the 1700’s which is never a bad thing for a 21st century photographer trying to create a project that deals with the here and now , as historical context is always welcome !

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The point I want to make today, is that sometimes the reaction to the action can be more informative / entertaining than the event itself , as a street photographer looking the wrong way on a regular basis will payoff , these crowd scenes of spectators are part of a Street Photography tradition reaching back to the 1960’s New York Parades where the masters of our Art-Form developed their approach and skills . On one level these crowd shots are all a bit samey but thankfully as the times change these scenes become fascinating barometers of the social landscapes they reflect as the people featured over the decades adapt and change.

Don’t be afraid to reject the pressures to create clear narrative in your captures, embrace the power of ambiguity in your pictures and let the viewer interpret the image for themselves , don’t spoon feed the viewer everything , give them just enough to kick start their appetite and do some of the work , let the viewer find their own “meaning” !

Street Photography is no place for those who belong to the herd , a single minded personal approach will pay creative dividends to those who make new paths and reject the tracks established by the crowd !

If you want your pictures to be different you might need to face the wrong way metaphorically and literally !

Keep It real !

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Is Grey The New Black ?

As its a British Bank holiday weekend and the heavens have opened already I thought I would share this photo-book whinge with you , I have invested hard earned cash in photography art books for longer than I care to remember , I enjoy the high production values of the best books almost as much as the photographic content within, but all is not well in my photo book world !

Strangely enough this whinge is not inspired by a badly produced photo book but by a beautifully created publication by Steidl that helped me realise that many of the digitally printed efforts I have acquired in the last few years are victims of lower production values, some pages are not much better than average photo copies , the disappointment is greatest amongst reproductions of works I have seen first hand or in older lithographic editions . Its not much to ask that black and white photographs are reproduced containing at least a tone representing a meaningful meaty black alongside clean midtone greys and bright clear whites !

One of the contributory factors appears to be a trend for full tonal range prints that can be created via a little digital jiggery pokery from digital scans and look quite anemic when viewed alongside the original period prints that quite often appear to have been made from slightly underexposed negatives in the case of Tony Ray-Jones , although I think the production of prints that were a little overprinted was quite fashionable in the 1970's .

I wonder if work created in the last century is being misrepresented by the 21st century printing process ?

I have just compared Grim Street by Mark Cohen with the more recent Frame by the same photographer , although the repro in Frame is not that bad it appears to be soulless when viewed alonside the masterpiece that is Grim Street . I believe Grim Street was created via a litho press and Frame via a digital workflow  ?  Those who know about book printing tell me that its all about the operator, as both processes are capable of great or awful results,  ?

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I have to admit that the older books in my collection appear to possess higher quality reproductions than most recent acquisitions . A Day Off by TRJ is a interesting example of a book that appears to have been badly reproduced (Dark), until you see the original prints that were supplied to Thames & Hudson , recent digital reproductions of these works are richer in detail but lack the personality of the original work in my opinion .

Its great that more  projects than ever are making it into print,  however the quality of reproduction should not be compromised,as second rate publishing will lead to dissatisfaction and the demise of what is currently a growing market .

The book that inspired this piece is Arbiet / Work by Chris Killip and published by Steidl the reproduction is stunning although the pictures of my home town that I'm so familiar with still conflict me , as does the photographer who created them .

Keep it real !

 

 

Talking The Talk ?

I assume the increase in  none  photographic, photographic activity that modern photographers consume and create is connected to the digital age .  Confused ?  So am I , it appears to me that many modern photographers would rather write a book , create a pod cast, organise meet ups , teach novices, write a blog or invent a camera club rather than , dare I suggest it , take photographs !

Whats going on ?

Has the picture making process become so easy that everyone has so much time on their hands to participate in these none core activities or is the isolation of a digital workflow creating a increased need for a form of photographic social interaction that the digital world and social media are failing to supply in a meaningful way ?

Are modern photographers missing out on the rumors, whispers & general gossip that professional analogue photographers enjoyed as part of regular visits to the E6 and C41 Photo Lab back in the day , in short are twenty first century photographers feeling lonely ?

Don't laugh , I'm serious , the modern world allows us to shoot , process , print , frame, exhibit and sell our work abroad without ever speaking to anyone . We can even replace our cameras with the money from the sale and might only have to say "thank you" to the person who delivers the package to the door , are the social skills that many of the best photographers possess wasted in the world of new media ?

Just for the record this is not a plea for help as I still battle against the clock everyday to produce the work that my overly active creative mind creates for me .    I was reminded recently of my vulnerability and have finally got the message that I am not invincible and will not live forever , that is why I am highly motivated and value my time behind a camera so highly , its fun to talk the talk but its more important to prove to yourself that you can walk the walk on a regular basis .  

That said I must now go and make some pictures as writing blogs is just "Talking The Talk"  ?

Keep it real !

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David Hurn , a photographer who can certainly walk the walk and talk the talk .  

Very Strange !

This is a quick follow  up  on my Red Letter Day piece.

Those who read my theory on hot spots and special photographic days should have stopped laughing by now, however the 19th of June was even stranger this year !

The 19th of June fell on a Tuesday this year , I had no plans to go seeking photographic subjects as I had work commitments, I thought to myself that the Red Letter Day principle was not going to be maintained in 2018 and thought no more about it, although I was a little disappointed.

Sandwiches made I got in my car and headed to work just like I do most other days,  my camera stayed at home , killing off any possibility of me making a special June 19th capture, or so I thought ?

On my short drive to work I spotted a photographic opportunity and thought it was worth a shot , using my phone I managed a few shots of this unusual scene that really rang my Street Photography bell, more importantly from my superstitious view point the magic of June 19th had delivered a picture and a smile on my face in very unlikely circumstances, again !

I truly believe that I am led through this photographic journey, as many of the pictures just seem to appear and fall in my lap with very few decisions being made by me ? 

Street Photography really is a mind game . believe ?

Be lucky and keep it real !

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Know Your Streets !

It's not rare for me to hit the streets for a few hours and fail to make a capture that satisfies me .  however, I should add that occasionally I manage more than one picture that rings my photographic bell,  yesterday was such a day.

Its important to come back with a few pictures you like now and then, but I've always told myself that these "fail days" are not totally wasted if you learn something from the session , it might be a bit of lighting on a particular street or a repeated behavior of street vendors or pedestrians , the learning is subtle and quite often is of no practical use, but every now and then this insider knowledge of "your" street pays off !

I have been trying to capture a picture of the  guys in my local town taking down huge umbrellas that are used to cover market stalls on market day,  the image of someone trapped inside a giant umbrella has existed in  my mind for years, as my efforts to date have always ended on the cutting room floor , until yesterday .

In the past I have worked this packing away scenario without success, but yesterday was different, I already had a decent shot in the bag and was not contemplating another attempt at my elusive "umbrella  shot" as my photo session was coming to an end and it was hot and I was knackered.

The truth is that I was just walking through the market as it packed away, looked up , saw the brolly guy and knew what would happen next , the light was hard and cut through the scene like a hot knife through butter creating beautiful areas of light and shade , wait,  wait, ...   wait ,  the brolly man did his thing and I did mine, one frame,  got it !

Some shots feel as if they are meant to be, this is one of those  . I had already been extremely fortunate earlier in this photo shoot but that's another story !

Make  the most of this great UK weather and keep it real .

 

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Something Deep & Meaningful ?

Every once in a while I feel the need to write a piece that reflects the state of contemporary Street Photography and the giant strides our art-form is making ?

Having had  a good look around I see that good solid documentary photography is still being mistaken for Street Photography and the insatiable lust for the retro street photography "look" goes on , in short many of today's togs know what they like and like what they know !  

Its not the most forward thinking or progressive of visual manifesto's to create images without visual risk but that appears to reflect the mindset of many of today's shooters.

As I do not wish to write anything deep and meaningful that might awaken the creative sensibilities of the SP community, I thought it best to post some black & white "shaggy Dog" pictures , always popular and never controversial ?

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Will Street Photography ever change its spots ?

Keep it real !

Just Got Back ....

Pleased to report that my trip to Sardinia for the inaugural Alghero Street Photography Awards did not go unrewarded . I was fortunate enough to pick up the award for best Street Photography single image and meet some great folk  .

The island of Sardinia and the town of Alghero made a great backdrop for this prestigious event that attracted top drawer entries from international and Italian photographers.. I am proud to have been recognized at this event .

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I must thank the team and sponsors who made this event happen and congratulate the other photographers who were successful on Saturday evening , especially the young photographers 

The Street Photography Festival program of events included lectures from prominent Italian photographers and a Street Photography Workshop led by David Gibson. . I managed to spend a bit of time trying to find a few views worthy of next years festival with mixed results , I have included one below, this is a pre-edit pic so don't judge it too harshly ?

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All in all Alghero ,Sardinia and this Street Photography festival will put a smile on any street togs face , it certainly provided me with some great memories. 

Those of you who watched the presentation via the on-line feed will already be aware that both David Gibson and myself managed to test the destructibility of the trophy live on stage ,   OOP's !

Until next year, ....

How I Shot The Royal Wedding !

That's right , yesterday I shot the royal wedding , I decided to shoot the event as a Street Photography / documentary project as part of my State Of Britain series . It might surprise some of you that I have worn the Royal Rota Press Pass on a number of occasions in the past , but I was not in the business of trying to create PR publicity shots on this occasion , thankfully. !

Mick Jagger told me a million times never to exaggerate and never to name drop, so  I won't mention here who I've shot in the past . My plan for this event was to photograph it in "Street" style from my personal (Layman's) view , I would not even travel to Windsor although I would visit a local town and shoot whatever royal wedding imagery came my way !

The local town had laid on a big screen to enable shoppers & shop workers to watch the event and create a community atmosphere., I was looking forward to being part of the crowd and recording this occasion . As Windsor hosted the worlds press with thousands of photographers present, I would record / interpret how ordinary people in a normal city responded to this memorable day. 

I prepared for this shoot with a level of seriousness that I thought was behind me , two bodies with 20mm lenses fitted, Eight camera batteries , spare cards in case of malfunctions , flash to control contrast if needed etc .  I arrived early in town to case the location and see how the local folk were responding to this historic event , at first I was worried ,as the town was quiet , very quiet?

I managed  portraits of the grooms grandmother, Harry and Megan very early on in the day before capturing a cafe worker preparing for the day ahead. 

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To be honest I was thrilled with the 3 portraits I captured in the window of the charity shop , the quirkiness of this photographic opportunity was revealing itself to me , I felt like the cat with the cream as this crazy shoot was working out.

Twelve O'clock soon came around and the television wedding coverage began on the big screen with the local folk gathered around ,  I knew this was going to be the most challenging part of this unusual wedding photography coverage , I had photographed this large screen before at  Cheltenham races  and knew that the banding problems that old TV sets presented to photographers were not an issue here , long exposures were not necessary, which was just as well, as it was a very bright day and the contrast was high !

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I shot about 200 pics on the day, obviously most of these have already hit the edit room floor and will never see the light of day ,its early days in the edit but I might have managed 7 or 8 keepers from the day, which is fine .  I have to admit that this was a tough day compared to my normal considered laid back Street Photography approach. . 

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 I have loved shooting this international event from my local  and personal perspective, the images might be challenging for some viewers as they seek to offer alternative representations and interpretations to the predictable high profile press imagery that does not really represent the reality of how most of the UK public participated & engaged with this twenty first century marriage.

 I believe this alternative Royal Wedding photographic coverage is an important contribution to my State Of Britain series .

Keep it real !

Hot spots & Red-Letter Days ?

Every now and then I write a blog that I know is madness , this is one of those !

Looking through my photographic archive recently, I noticed a very strange phenomenon, I write this today to find out if anyone else has noticed this weird "coincidence" in their digital files.

Searching out a picture recently in my files I could roughly remember the month I had made the capture, but could not remember the year.  This led to my discovery that a number of my favorite captures were all made on the same date in different years !

I know this is hard to believe, but don't knock it until you've taken a look through your files,  this "Red Letter Day" theory is bad enough but my experience is that some locations appear to deliver more interesting visual events than others despite having no special features.

Here are a number of same location coincidences ?

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Following the hot spot realisation it was no surprise to me to discover that many of my favourite captures are made in June as this is probably when I am most active , however I was surprised that the 18th & 19th deliver most year in and year out ,  this is usually about the time of the summer solstice and is associated with all things magical and mystical , I'm not prepared to say here that I believe in all this mumbo jumbo magic solstice stuff but I do associate a level of spirituality with Street Photography.   I have no better explanation for the special mindset that tunes me into the unlikely alignment of natural and surreal elements before my lens on the good days .

Here are a few of the pix from my unexplained red-letter days in June !

 

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To be honest if this phenomenon is real or imagined matters very little, but I have to admit that I work with a greater level of confidence,  positivity  and expectation during my "lucky" days in June !

Do you believe in magic ?

Enjoy your long holiday weekend , keep it real !