The First of Many

February 9, 2012 § Leave a comment

Norma Jean by Richard Avedon

As our class is about to plunge headfirst into the perils of studio photography our first assigned post for Advanced Techniques was to find a portrait (online or off) which captures the essence of the subject.  Portrait photography is fascinating because people are fascinating, and for every unique face comes an entirely distinctive personality.  The ability to evoke the nuances of an individual’s character and reach deep into their soul, even if only for a fraction of a second, is the work of a great portrait photographer.  Over the years, I have mentally catalogued my favorite portraits, usually by the “greats,” such as Annie Leibovitz (who could not like Annie’s work?), or Richard Avedon.  In fact for this assignment I did choose one of Avedon’s most iconic portraits.  Though I do not entirely agree with Avedon’s methodology for capturing his images (I have a problem when it comes to manipulating the subject to get an expected or desired response) his photograph of Marilyn Monroe seems perfectly exposed to her personality.  It was one of the few portraits of his in which he did nothing but wait and allow the subject to fall back into their natural self.  According to Avedon, this shoot was like any other for the iconic beauty, during which the camera only saw Marilyn Monroe, a blond-haired, red lipped facade carefully crafted by the woman formerly known as Norma Jean Baker.  Avedon took the same photos so many other photographers had already found as Marilyn played up to the camera, but this wasn’t what he wanted…he wanted to understand who she truly was.  So he waited.  Eventually the mask crumbled and beneath the confidence was someone very different.  He walked up and took the picture as she gazed off into the distance.  Where there was only vivacity and seduction, there was now melancholy and doubt.  Perhaps Avedon poured too much of himself into the photograph, or maybe I am reading too much into her expression, but I seem to recognize that face.  It’s the face of someone who is tired of pretending, someone who has played the part so long she can barely remember who she once was and hardly understands who she truly is.  The light is perfect for the situation as it hides nothing, for this is a portrait that reveals everything.  To the world Marilyn was mysterious and dramatic, but the diffuse lighting of this portrait adds an innocence and openness that’s unlike any of her other photographs.  And, if you’re wondering whether I saw My Week With Marilyn and am interpreting this photo from an influenced perspective, well, I haven’t, not yet at least…though it does look good.

Here are a few other portraits I found that I really enjoyed. Hope you like them too!

Michael Caine by Brian Duffy

Greta Garbo by Clarence Sinclair Bull

Cowboy, Nevada by William Albert Allen



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