804 Timeless Portrait Photography

Last week the National Photographic Portrait Prize inspired me to revisit portraiture. This year’s winner is again an example of a classic style, with no frills and - according to photographer Gary Grealy (we go back some thirty-five years; we had adjoining studios in North Sydney) - a deliberate choice to depict just the person, without distraction from background or environment; it is the subject matter that is concentrated on, with “the light” doing the work of “painting” the sitter’s features.


Probably all serious portrait photographers have in their memory bank as a benchmark classic images like Yousuf Karsh’s Einstein and Hemingway …


… and some of us know Bob Martin of South Africa, another master of the genre of great personal portraits.

Update: And wouldn't you know it, those two - Yousuf Karsh and Bob Martin - do belong in the one sentence; as it turns out, Bob was Karsh's assistant on a film shoot in Africa.  Great story, Bob.

the actor Nigel Hawthorne by Bob Martin

I have a history with the National Photographic Portrait Prize, I entered twice in the past few years … alas, I never made it to the finals. So my congratulations to Gary are heartfelt; a great achievement (I’m green with envy, mate!). 

my grandson JJ, age 54 minutes


my sons Rad & Yani, owners of Unity Gym

But my portraits rarely are of the classic minimalist style that won this year. I guess my pictures are hybrids of portrait and documentary photos, and for that reason probably not within the guidelines of the NPPP; i.e. like the above combo of my sons and the shots from the Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras and Christmas Day

... as well as photos from the series Faces at the QVB

my daughter Saskia at the QVB

retired Sydney entertainer Michael Preston at the QVB

The greatest portrait I have ever been aware of is by Edward Steichen of New York banker J.P. Morgan. It is said Steichen had time to shoot just two 8” x 10” plates, and his photo depicted Morgan as the ruthless business man he was. What a picture! Indeed a courageous move by the photographer, well beyond just fulfilling a brief (history records that Morgan loved the photo and paid the young Steichen a handsome fivehundred dollars … the standard rate for a portrait to this day).