Well. This is way overdue. But here I am. Back, hopefully in full force.
This week I had my first two Portraiture classes with one of my most respected professors, Betsey Schneider. This class was pretty highly sought after, considering Betsey has been on sapatical for the past 15 months, and she is known famously for her captivating photographs of her children. There was a waiting list of probably 20 and I will admit I managed to back-door slide through thanks to a friend who decided to drop the class last minute.
Regardless, our first class was systematic. Syllabus. Due Dates. Projects. Field Trips. Small Lecture.. but she left us with a question. How do you define a portrait? What is the definition. Your definition.
What a question, right? Sure, it seems simple at first… A picture of somebody, a person. A human physical presence captured or described in a picture. But what about the metaphorical aspects? Is this a portrait of a concept, a society, an idea? Is this a portrait of my camera that represents ME. This is me. What do those portraits mean? Are they portraits? How do you know? And what about the truth of it. Just because there is a photograph of a person, does not mean it is the truth or that it is accurate. It’s an opinion. A moment. So what do portraits really tell us?
These are the questions racing through my head as I slowly dissected what the word means to me. I reached for my computer and immediately did some research. I came across a couple things…
“A portrait is not a likeness. The moment an emotion or fact is transformed into a photograph. It is no longer a fact but an opinion. All portraits are accurate. None of them is the truth. ” – Richard Avedon
and also a quote on some cheesy portrait website.. “A life can begin anywhere..”
I read somewhere else “False History”
These things felt important to me in regards to the definition of the word Portrait. Because it feels just as important as the other parts. A portrait has to have a human likeness present that is dominant in either physical or metaphorical form. It can be an object I believe, in obvious cases. It is absolutely altered through context. It can represent an idea. It is not always a portrait of what your seeing. It can be an object with anatomic suggestions. I believe Cindy Sherman’s Still photographs are far more portraits of a society stereotype then portraits of herself. But just equally as important for me then all that, is this aspect that you need to be aware that a portrait is not the truth. It is just a moment, a fragment of history that may depict the truth or not.
That’s just my definition for the moment with this clarity. This is largely due I am sure to my amazing internship, where I have been listening to ideas that deal with similar questions in the show I am assisting on, which I will tell more about soon!