Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Portrait Talk


We've spent a bit of time chatting about portraits.

One of the the points I made is the importance of introducing some variety into the 'pace' of images. That's to say it's very easy, particularly in an exhibition or a book, to have a series of portraits which are so similar in style they can render the viewer comatose.

Not that I'm being critical but the effect is easy to see when, for example, you look at a series of Richard Waldendorp's pictures. He's a magnificent arial photographer - definitely not a portrait photographer. Take any one of his pictures and view it in isolation and it is brilliant. But look at a series of them in a book or an exhibition and the senses become quite dulled. His graphic vision is excellent but his sense of light is not and his work would be improved a great deal if he were to shoot ariels at different times of day to bring out  texture in the landscape. Most of the shots depend entirely on graphic effect and a single overhead light - the sun.

The same argument applies to Richard Avedon's iconic essay "In the American West".  Avedon was one of the world's greatest photographers and his series of portraits has become a landmark and an inspiration. However, the same repetitive effect can apply. All of the pictures were taken against a white backdrop on the shaded side of  buildings, thus  providing a huge softbox effect from the open sky. The incredible variety of characters held the work together.

Both photographers have achieved inspiring bodies of work but the effect of similarity in approach to their images can lead to a 'seen one, seem them all effect'.

This was my reason for caution when looking at your early portraits on the current project. I'm not being critical there - the motivation behind this is perfectly valid. I'm thinking down the track and visualising how the similarity in style may have a negative effect.

I mentioned that it may be an idea to break up the exhibition, to add a touch of visual relief, by taking not only a close up head shot but also to look for other characteristics which make up a persons character - hands, feet maybe. Or to take them in a non studio environment such as the one in the ruined building on this blog. I made a comment about that and I think that's an image and style which can be fine tuned very easily.

I've just managed to get m own daylight studio set up after clearing truckloads of rubbish out and the lighting as low but very nice quality. I've only done a few tests on a digital camera this far and am happy with what I'm getting. The lighting needs a little bit of work but it's fine - it just needs variety which I'm achieving by the use of reflectors.

I've posted some shots below. A couple of you to illustrate how the environmental effect can be put to good use. I like the tight shot but I prefer the wider one of you sitting and having a tea break. If I were to write a caption to this I 'd keep in mind your background of professional fishing. The mural goes some way towards helping that along.
Dewi Hyde, Esperence, 2011                                                                                                                                   Roger Garwood

I liked this shot Dewi. Totally natural and unposed. The light was a gift which included a touch of backlighting.

Dewi Hyde, Esperence, 2011                                                             Roger Garwood
This picture tells a different story. It loosly fits in with your past professional experience as a fisherman. There is a wider shot which takes in a lot more of the mural but this has the better expression.

Narayani, Fremantle, 2011                                                                 Roger Garwood
Naraynai, Fremantle, 2011                                                                  Roger Garwood
Both of these were taken in my daylight studio space. The light is simply filtered through scrims placed over the glass doors. I didn't feel I had the skin tones quite right but I'm also feeling that's one of the quirky aspects of digital exposure which needs to be mastered. 

Richard Read,  Art Historian, UWA. 2011                                                                                                               Roger Garwood

This was shot in the same lighting from a slightly different angle. I kept the session a bit loose, not actually posing anything but letting Richard carry on chatting and responding to a friend who was also in the studio. He's an animated sort of character and I feel that approach paid off.

Richard Read, 2011                                                                            Roger Garwood
When we'd finished shooting I made a cup of tea. We all carried on chatting and I felt the picture which most epitomised Richard was this one.

An interesting thing about this posting is that the images all look different from those on my desktop in terms of contrast and skin tones. They are tending to be a touch darker and flatter and this has to be yet another lesson to be learnt from this technology. That's to say an allowance for the posting has to be made when scanning and correcting images.

By the way, the backdrop is an old canvas cover from a railway truck. I cut it into two parts, one of which is hung on the studio wall, the other is rolled up and portable for chucking into the back of the car. 

It works pretty well in colour as well. Here's my very first shot in the studio. It's a bunch of bananas from the garden which have been drying out all summer. It works well in B&W too and I'm going to work on a series of still life pics this winter.

Dried Bananas. 2011                                                                           Roger Garwood

1 comment:

  1. Elegant portraits Roger. I wonder what kind of print can be made from these digital files from the Leica... wonder all sorts of things as we exchange images on a computer screen - some scans from traditional prints made from film and some digital files. It calls into question the whole concept of 'imaging'.

    I know what you are talking about in your discussion of photographic style or signature versus a sterile generic. 'Tis a fine line perhaps only defined subjectively as in Avedon's case - what you see as weakness in the American project I see as a strength. An artist only has their own voice to offer I believe, something quite passe post postmodernism, and you must follow it and develop it to express yourself with integrity. If that voice is discernable you're on the way there.

    You began that discussion however with reservations of the idea of an ex'n of head and shoulder studio portraits. I agree it would probably be 'boring' and won't be doing so but that again raises questions for me regarding digital 'realities' and the need for constant stimuli, provocation, titillation and spoonfed entertainment. Sometimes we need to stop and think (for ourselves!) and to contribute to the making and viewing of visual art in an active, engaged and intellectual manner.

    Like your studio backdrop Rog. Canvas is so low maintenance and will get better with age, perfect reflective tone too.