The history of portrait photography What is an image

The first thing to begin with for someone similar to Philip is to establish the foundations and define what constitutes a portrait. Apart from the simple definition – a photo of an individual The answer might not be as straightforward as you think. Philip states, ‘I believe that if you ask different curators they would have different answers to the question. However, for me, the key is in the way that it captures an individual’s identity. Not only how they appear or the physical appearance of their features but something that reflects their character as well as who they are, and what makes them different from others.’

At AP, we admit to tending to draw very stark distinctions between photographic genres. In our premium portrait issues, we concentrate on the portrait photographer as well as other genres that are similar or overlap, such as street and documentary, which, while not necessarily falling in the same class, typically require a separate issue. In his capacity as an academic and an interrogator of current practices, Philip has a different viewpoint.

Floyd Rankins, Theophilus Bracket, Old Swampscott Fisherman, n.d. Gelatin silver print. Image courtesy of Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, MA.

“Frankly, in the 21st century, there aren’t any clear lines separating these two distinct divisions. This is good. I’m not convinced whether social documentary, also known as street photography, is a very good word in and of itself. Still, it’s clear that there are a lot of portrait photographers who are out everywhere and in communities in the streets and are taking pictures of people and telling us a bit about their life.’

How do you create a stunning portrait photograph?

As anyone who is in the art of portraiture will know, portraiture isn’t simple. Everything you know about someone in that instant into the space of 1/60th second is awe-inspiring. Photographic portraits are uniquely effective in the sense that tension, which is required to condense everything into one millisecond, causes it to be able to resolve in some way. When a photograph is placed in the right place, it’s unlike any other method that communicates.’

The unfortunate news for viewers of AP seeking to recreate some of the greatest portrait artists is that defining the best way to accomplish all of these is almost impossible. “I’m not sure if I can describe it in a way,” says Philip. It’s one of those moments that happens when you look at the image and feel overwhelmed, and you know you’ve seen an amazing idea, but there’s not formula. There are many ways of creating an image. The process can be performed in a studio; it could be carried out on the streets and, by careful planning, or it may be spontaneous. There’s no one recipe to guide you to stunning portrait photography.’

Weronika Gesicka Untitled #32, 2016 in the Traces series from 2015 to 2017. Courtesy Weronika Gesicka and JEDNOSTKA Gallery

Portrait photography’s history versus the current culture

There’s a fascinating section within the FaceTime program that focuses on both the male gaze as well as the colonial gaze. These often-controversial subjects divide opinions often. Some are prone to sneering at an alleged “woke agenda,” while others will fight for our understanding of the concerns. Likely, Philip is somewhere in the latter. “We need to be cognizant of methods that were prevalent in previous times.’ He says. I’m amazed that when I was a young curator, things that male photographers believed were acceptable, but they now don’t think it is fine – and it’s true that the world has been improved for it.

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