What Is a Portrait?

What do you think a portrait is?

–        Image that depicts a person

–        Representation of a person

–        It doesn’t have to be a person

–        Could be an animal etc.

–        Essence of a person (essence, who a person is)

–        A picture with something that identifies that identifies the person

Where are they found?

–        Books

–        Passports

–        Family Albums

–        Publications

–        Galleries

–        Anywhere

Who commissions them?

–        Books

–        Family

–        Model

–        Brands

–        Companies

–        Bands

–        Newspapers

–        The photographer

–        Anybody

Purpose of the picture changes use. Who’s deciding to commission a photograph? Will decide on how that picture is used and how useful it is.

What should a portrait include/ exclude?


–        Subject

–        Identity


–        Person doesn’t have to be in portrait

–        Depends on what it is being used for

–        Exclude nothing

–        Depends on purpose

A portrait is?

A representation of a person or animal, esp. of face, person, animal


Historically photos were commissioned for two reasons:

. As Forms of identity/ surveillance

. As a remembrance/ generally commissioned to flatter

Photos were sometimes used to ‘collect’ ‘unusual’ people – very much a Victorian thing

-> Lavatr – believed you could tell a criminal type by facial characteristics

-> Irving Penn – worked 1919-late 90’s:

  • Social thing to take portraits
  • Took photos of friends/ family – many were famous

-> August Sander

  • German
  • Documented german ‘race’ by type
  • Nazi’s didn’t like his photography – not Arian enough – did not fit in with the elitist ideals
  • Took photos of people of the edge of society

-> Diane Arbus

  • Photographed people on the edge of society
  • People considered abnormal
  • Hard lighting
  • Not flattering
  • Style considered quite isolating
  • Had the ability to make normal people look abnormal

-> Richard Avedon

  • Would put adverts in papers for the ‘right’ kind of people
  • Isolate somebody from background
  • Only looking at them

-> Mary Ellen Mark

  • 20 Years later than Arbus
  • Makes Abnormal people look normal

-> Nicholas Nixon

  • Took pictures of the brown sisters each year for 25 years

-> Steve Pike

  • Philosophers – Project
  • Strong, distinctive style

-> Nick Wapplington

  • You don’t have to be formal for portraiture

-> Thomas Struth

  • Only uses daylight
  • Large format cameras
  • Known as a great portrait photographer for his day and age

-> Tina Barnley

  • Europeans
  • Upper Middle Class

-> Dayanita Singh