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    A History of Portraiture Essay (2530 words)

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    The best record of non-photographic portraits would of course be statues in the pre-Roman era. Some of the earliest portraits date back to B. C. The most popular of these type of portraits were those done in Egypt.

    It was common to do a funeral portrait or a “mummy portrait. ” While in this time it was difficult to capture a person’s essence and personality in stone these types of portraits were used often to remember the deceased. Many other portraits were done during the medieval period in Europe. However, the church ruled in Europe during this time period. It was looked down upon to have a portrait done unless you were a noble figure or trying to reenact a consecrated figure of the church. Why you ask? Well it would give the subject of the portrait a likeness to God.

    Portraiture became extremely dominate in the Renaissance Era. During this period the use of perspective and light helped to create a more photorealistic portrait. Shadow was used to create depth and form in paintings. This got rid of the common “flat look” which pictures seemed to possess before this era. Artists such as Leonardo De Vinci and Rembrandt affected the way which portraits were created.

    Leonardo added color and layered his oil paints when doing portraits to give them a softer glow. Rembrandt added four different aspects, in his paintings, and to the way modern photographic portraiture is used today. The first is known as “Rembrandt lighting. ” With this type of lighting there is a small highlight on the shadow side of the face. By positioning the shadow differently it adds much more texture to the image than if the person’s face were entirely in the light.

    The second aspect would be choosing to face the subject slightly away from the light source, this is also known as “broad lighting. The third would be the ability to take into account the surroundings of the subject or the background. By giving the background lighting affects this added depth to his portraits. Lastly Rembrandt used a white cloth and draped it above the top of the window. This made sure that the light from the window would refract back downwards and surround his subject. The use of technology also became a part of portrait painting during the late Renaissance.

    Optic projections had become common knowledge by then. However, there is evidence to suggest that camera obscura and the use of mirrors was also common when painting portraits. The use of these techniques and tools while essential to painting, also became essential in photography as well. In the year 1839, portraiture changed from using subjects in paintings to capturing those subjects in photography. In that year both William Talbot and Louis Daguerre introduce the Daguerreotype and the Calotype.

    After both of these techniques had been introduced painter Paul Roche declared the art of painting to be dead. While incorrect, both the Calotype & Daguerreotype did alter the art scene, especially when it came to portraiture. Photography lessened the time it took to make a portrait. While painting a portrait took hours of sitting completely still, with photography it took much less time to take and develop the portrait. As more time passed the faster and easier portraiture, in photography, could be done. Soon new materials reduced exposer time from fourty-five minutes to a few seconds, leaving more time to spend editing photographs.

    When the wet collodion process was introduced it became more assessable and affordable for the individual to do his or her own portraits. It was no longer a rich mans art. One of the most famous portraitists, who came about during this time, was Julia Margaret Cameron. She set the standard to not only capture your subject but to also capture the emotions the subject evokes. As the wet collodion process became more and more popular the number of people involved in portraiture also increased. Four more processes were added to development of pictures: the ambrotype, tintype, carte-de-viste and cabinet cards.

    The last two were types of card photographs. The less costly tintype became more popular than the ambrotype. It was easy to access and much less expensive. The tintypes started becoming increasingly in demand during Civil War and continued to be used up until the twentieth-century.

    Tintype studios became such a request that the photographs were sold at no more than a penny a piece. While this type of process is not in use today the poses which are used in tintypes are commonly used in “yearbook photographs” or “senior pictures. ” Also, during this time many painters started to use photography to work off of instead of requiring the subject to sit for hours on end in front of them. One of the painters, by the name of Franz Lenbach, had several photographers venture around Europe to take numerous images, which he could then convert to portraits. With the furthering of technology photographers could think more outside of the box when it came to positions in which to put their subject in.

    This allowed photographers to leave the studio as well. One of the most famous photographers, Edward S. Curtis, traveled throughout the United States taking many documentary pictures, as well as portraits. Another photographer, Irving Penn, actually took a small tent with him, creating the “world’s smallest dark room. As the popularity of photography increased, so did the formation of clubs and societies. Among these is the Royal Photographic society and The Professional Photographers of America.

    Several schools came about to train photographers in a strong portrait course. While they were all named schools, education was not the primary purpose for them. Many photographers gathered at the schools to share their different techniques or ideas. As photography changed through its technology and use so did portraiture.

    One of trends which came about in the late 19th century was pictorialism. A few of the photographers who’s work was greatly affected by this movement were Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Steichen and Clarence White. With this type of photography the photograph had a more romantic and soft look to it. With the publication of Camera Work, photography was given equal status to other forms of art, such as painting.

    Then came along the three photographers which impacted portraiture in an incredible way. The first portraitist was Cecil Beaton. He was a British portrait photographer and theatrical designer. His earliest portraits were of his sisters Nancy and Baba. He was educated at Harrow and Cambridge, but never finished out school.

    His career took an entirely different turn when he visited New York City. He received contracts with Vogue, Vanity Fair and Harper’s Bazaar. His work primarily focused on cultural icons in his day. His wanderlust compelled him to travel. Hollywood stars captured by his camera included Gary Cooper, Marlene Dietrich, Greta Garbo, and Katherine Hepburn, while painters ranged from Salvador Dalí to Francis Bacon.

    His portraits spanned parts of six decades. In the 1930’s he was commissioned to take a series of pictures of Queen Elizabeth. This job eventually led him to become the official Royal Family Portraitist. During World War II he was taken out of his glamorous environment and became a war photographer. His abilities, while were extremely obvious in photography, extended beyond that. He was also a writer and illustrator.

    His obvious association with celebrities of all kind gave him an influence on the way portraits were taken. While he used mostly standard poses he got his subjects to really convey certain sides of their personality which much of the world had not seen before. The second influential portraitist was Yousuf Karsh. Karsh was born in Turkey; he left turkey for Canada during World War II. He moved in with his uncle and soon was taught the basics of photography. His uncle then sent him to Boston under an apprenticeship.

    After three years of being under the wing of popular portrait photographer John H. Garo he moved back to Canada. In the nation’s capital of Ottawa, he opened a modest portrait studio. He hoped that its locations would be prime for photographing its important figures and international visitors. Karsh was quoted as saying in the Independent.

    So meager was Karsh’s budget for the launch of his own studio that most of the furniture consisted of orange crates. In his spare time, Karsh became involved with a local theater group, where he learned more about lighting and the use of artificial light in photography. It was at the theater group that the photographer first met actress Solange Gauthier. He later married her. One of the more unique things which Karsh did was to study his subjects before he took photographs of them.

    In an account of his preparations for a photo shoot, Karsh wrote, as quoted in the Independent, “Before I begin, I will have studied my subject to the best of my ability, and within broad limits know what I am hoping to find, and what I hope to be able to interpret successfully. The qualities that have attracted me to the subject are those that will satisfy me if I can portray them in the photograph, and that will most probably satisfy views of the picture as well. I am fascinated by the challenge of portraying greatness with my camera” (Yousuf). Karsh first captured international attention with his December 1941 portrait of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

    During a brief visit to Ottawa, Churchill reluctantly agreed to sit for Karsh. He warned the photographer that he would give him two minutes and not a second more to take his picture. With that, Churchill lit up one of his trademark cigars. Seconds later, Karsh snatched the cigar from Churchill’s lips and then snapped the picture. The resulting photo was sold to Life magazine for only $100. This photograph eventually became the most widely reproduced portrait in the history of photography.

    The portrait of Churchill gave Karsh recognition all over the world. Not long after this the Canadian government sent Karsh to England to photograph several British military leaders. The widely circulated Churchill portrait brought a major change in Karsh’s life. No longer did he have to seek out subjects. They came looking for him. To be “Karshed” was a true sign that a celebrity had arrived.

    Karsh photographed every American president from Herbert Hoover to Bill Clinton. Although no one other than Karsh knows for sure, it has been estimated that he photographed 17,000 people over six decades. Another part of Karsh, which made him such a great photographer, was that he was deeply respected by his subjects. His brother said “People knew they had a master with them and they appreciated that opportunity. ” Karsh sought to bring out people’s true personality and world views in his photography. One of the most famous quotes is “I believe that it is the artist’s job to accomplish at least two things-to stir the emotions of the viewer and to lay bare the soul of his subject.

    When my own emotions have been stirred, I hope I can succeed in stirring those of others. But it is the mind and soul of the personality before my camera that interests me most, and the greater the mind and soul, the greater my interest” (Yousuf). The last photographer which effected portraiture on a grand scale was Arnold Newman. Arnold Newman was an American photographer. He tended to specialized in portraits of well-known people posed in settings associated with their work.

    This approach is known as “environmental portraiture”. He started out studying art at the University of Miami in Florida. After that he took a job as an assistant in a photography studio. In 1941 he was blessed with his first exhibition in New York City.

    He continued to visit New York until he finally moved there and opened his own studio in 1946. Although his early portraits concentrated on well-known artists, he gradually broadened his subject matter to include famous people of all types, such as: writers, composers, political leaders and scientists. He always posed them in a way which best reflected their personality and occupation. The 76 photographic portraits of eminent Britons that Newman made for the National Portrait Gallery in London were published in the book The Great British. As you can tell these three while coming from different backgrounds and parts of the world all have one thing in common. They try to reflect part of the subject’s emotions or experiences in the photograph.

    While some people in portraiture do not use these techniques without them it isn’t much of a portrait. Yes there are portraits of people which are used in the year book but they aren’t as exciting as these ones. In order to create dynamic photos a photographer must decide what particular emotion or feel the photographer wants the viewer to recognize. For this it is essential to understand the subject in order to make a good portrait.

    People want to be understood, and to relate to the photographer making their portrait. Much of portrait photography focuses primarily on the face or eyes of a subject. It is said that eyes are windows to a person’s soul, which makes sense for why it is so popular in portrait photography. Light Dynamics are what make portraits possible and interesting.

    This has always been true with painting, and it is true now with digital portraiture. Photographers as well as painters use light to make portraits come alive. Light gives figures form and volume through the addition of highlights and shadows. While light dynamics brighten portraits, we rarely see the light source itself. When light is visible in a portrait we generally see light that is scattered, or out of focus.

    While some people believe that portrait photography is not an essential part of photography, they could do without it, that it is simply “documentation. ” While yes, in the beginning of portraiture painting and portrait photography it was strictly for the rich and noble figures of the time. Today Portrait photography has become vital. It is safe to say that photography would not be what it is today without portraiture.

    From a very early age we are subjects of photography, especially in portraiture. It captures humans through their greatest achievements, such as graduating their college of choice, or the little ones, such as the first day going to the beach. Either way portraits capture something about human beings. It encompasses not only the physical and outer image but also the inner image of ourselves.



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    ” Cecil Beaton. N. p. , 09 Jan. 2011. Web.

    18 Oct. 2012.  . Newman, Arnold, and Philip Brookman. Arnold Newman.

    Köln: Taschen, 2000. Print. Rand, Glenn, and Tim Myer. A Very Brief History of Photography. N. p.

    : Rocky Nook, n. d. Book. 28 Dec. 2009.  .

    Tippett, Maria, Dr. Portrait in Light and Shadow: The Life of Yousuf Karsh. N. p. : Yale UP, n. d.

    Print. “Yousuf Karsh Biography. ” Yousuf Karsh Biography. Encyclopedia of World Biography, 2010. Web. 17 Oct.

    2012.  . “10 Famous Portrait Photographers You Have To Discover!” Famous Portrait Photographers You Have To Discover! Photography Art Cafe, 2011. Web.

    22 Oct. 2012.

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