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