Portrait Fever

I’m getting a little bit excited as I await the booking of my first ‘official’ sitter for my mini project. I guess I should outline what I hope to achieve with the images or clarify my point of view.

As I’ve previously said in posts and in my personal information that I attempted to start out as an ‘artist’ – a term I don’t feel comfortable using because, to me, an artist does ‘art’ as their living or as a way of life (like my artist friend Colin Dunbar) and much like a photographer photographs.

I’ll say it like this then; I started out creating images with another medium so I guess I had a certain visual mind set where I literally controlled everything yet nothing.

A painting of mine has almost never ended the way it started.

I want to go back to that idea of constructing an image from scratch with all the control I think I have and the rogue elements being the sitter and what happens in ‘the box’.

The Setup
I don’t know anything about lighting other than what I’ve seen in paintings, photos and films so it’ll be interesting and almost wholly dependant on the subject and their mood.

I have two brollies with lights to play with so hopefully I can make something interesting.

As I’ve also previously mentioned the capture will consist two frames on paper and 2 on film, Ilford Direct Positive paper and probably Fomapan 100, and if things are going well I may include a frame or two of Fuji FP100C and/or colour slide in the C330.


I’ve been thumbing through some of my ‘art’ books for lighting and compositional ideas and found a few interesting approaches I might consider.

“Portrait of Madame Pontillion” by Berthe Morisot

The painting above of Madame Pontillion by Berthe Morisot has an interesting approach. The figure is quite dark with an illuminated face and back wall. The back wall also has some dividing lines to make it interesting while complimenting her head. Another thing to consider.

I like the idea of illuminating the back and having the face in shade. Something like this self portrait I made, below, when I was ill a few weeks ago but not as extreme.

What I’ve also been considering but will require considerably more work are painted backgrounds, nothing fancy just back paint on large sheets of paper.

This idea partly came from thinking of Joel Peter Witkin’s work which is quite bizarre and disturbing to most folks but I believe is on another level:

Image by Joel Peter Witkin, borrowed from CanalBlog.com

Image by Joel Peter Witkin, borrowed from phantasmaphile.typepad.com

Can you imagine what something like this waterlilies painting by Monet would look like captured by Ilford’s Direct Positive paper?

‘Waterlilies’ by Claude Monet

Here are a couple of other posed figures/lighting ideas that caught my eye:

“Othello the Negro” by Lovis Corinth

“Self Portrait in a Straw Hat” by Lovis Corinth

“Self Portrait” by Vincent Van Gogh

A Pocket Full of Poses
How to pose the models? In my head I have one main pose which is something along the lines of this portrait below of ‘Louise Delphine Duchosal’ by Ferdinand Hodler though maybe more relaxed.

I’m uncertain if I want all sitters to all be in the same position and adopt the same poses but it’s making more and more sense to me the longer I think about it that they probably should.

“Mademoiselle Romaine Lacaux” by Pierre Auguste Renoir

Two frames facing and looking quarter left/right and two frames facing quarter left/right but looking into the camera.

The Hard Bit
Why? Why do portraits at all and why should I include people I’ve maybe never met, What am I looking for?

We all know for the most part that photography is a lie. It’s a subjective choice we make to choose what is, and maybe more importantly, what isn’t in the frame. Whether it’s subconscious or not is maybe not so important.

One word that’s been running through my head every time I think about the ‘why?’ is truth.

Sorry if I’m starting to sound pretentious but hear me out.

This is what I like about candid ‘unnoticed’ street portraits – and by unnoticed I mean the portrait is taken without the subject knowing they’ve been photographed – I can see a moment in there that has a kind of truth in it.

It’s that moment we’ve probably all experienced when sitting on a bus or during a quiet moment when mulling over the day or our concerns about our lives and futures.

Street photography can capture those moments when we get lost in ourselves. That’s the ‘truth‘ I’m looking for.

I’m hoping that when in that room with the lights all set up and the sitter seated and posed that they will be able to enter that reflective mood, especially when the exposure might be about 5-8 seconds and the camera involves a lot of footering about.

I hope this makes sense, if not let me know.

More to come I’m sure …

le fin

6 thoughts on “Portrait Fever

  1. I’m also setting up a sitter list for portraits with my 4×5 and am grappling with some of the same questions. I hear you about the idea of truth. The urge to do this came last week when I shot an event on my 35mm, just a very makeshift booth for photos with Santa, but the sitters were adults and most had drank a couple drinks (which was perfect by the way). I didn’t pose people, just let it happen, sometimes pretended I was having technical difficulties to loosen them up and when I got the 4×6 prints back I saw these peoples personalities and I felt like I knew some of them despite them being complete strangers. It was the sort of feeling you want to share. So now I’m trying to work out the logistics and studying up on photographers like Avedon, Arbus, Witkin, Weston, etc. Seems like such a simple thing, when really it’s not. Backdrop/no backdrop? Controlled/ natural light? Posed/ candid? Don’t know about you, but the list seems endless.


    1. Hi James.

      Sounds like you had a bit of a revelation with your photo booth.

      Thats a pretty good list of photographers to study but you’re right, there really isn’t such a thing as a simple portrait there’s a multitude of options.

      I hope your plans come to fruition soon.


  2. I can feel your enthusiasm all the way out here in Indiana!

    I get you about truth. That’s not pretentious at all. It seems like you want your portraits to be as true as possible given the vast possibilities for manipulating it that this medium offers.


    1. Thanks Jim.
      I worry when I start blabbering about my thoughts behind photos it gets silly and pretentious, and you’re right about how easy it is to manipulating a photo and be manipulative with one too.


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