Historic Portrait – research

Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-79)

  • one of the first female portraitists
  • called herself an ‘artistic photographer’
  • saw photography as an artistic pursuit rather than a science in contrast with many of her peers at the time.
  • used themes and soft focus to make ‘arty’ images.
  • posed her sitters, more than just an image of their likeness.
  • wanted to make beautiful images

As a female photographer, I thought I would look at other female portrait photographers. Some of the one mentioned were:

  • Annie Leibovitz (1949 – )*
  • Berenice Abbot (1898 – 1991)
  • Cindy Sherman ((1954 – )*
  • Diane Arbus (1923 – 1971)*
  • Dorethea Lange (1895 – 1965)*
  • Francesca Woodman (1958 – 1981)*
  • Gerd Taro (1910 -1937)
  • Helen Levitt (1913 – 2009)
  • Imogen Cunningham (1883 – 1876)
  • Margaret Bourke-Whitel (1904 – 1971)
  • Mary Ellen Mark (1940 – 2015)
  • Sally Mann (1951 – )*
  • Susan Meiselas (1948 – )
  • Tina Modotti (1896 – 1942)
  • Vivian Maier (1926 – 2009)*
  • = denotes, I have heard of them before

Article by The Vampire’s Wife: https://thevampireswife.com/blogs/stuff/julia-margaret-cameron-mysterious-children

Finding Vivian Maier

A documentary film made by John Maloof who unwittingly bought a box of her negatives at an auction on 2007, whilst trying to find items for a history book he was writing.

Since then he has championed her work and tried to find out about her. The film was fascinating, but what really struck me, there was a lot of conversation about why she didn’t want to share her work whilst she was alive. I’m of the opinion she didn’t want to and what’s more, she probably couldn’t have taken the images she did, had she been known for her work. Being a Nanny probably gave her the best opportunity to acquire the images she did, the lack personal ties and the opportunity to get out with a couple of kids, where no one would look at her twice, gave her the perfect opportunity to continue with what appears to be an obsession to take photos of people and their lives.

The images have a very authentic feel to them and the fact that she was using a twin-lens Rolleiflex camera at waste height, means that many of her portraits give the subject a powerful feel.

Interesting, one of the photographers reviewing Vivian’s work in the film was Mary Ellen Mark.

Historical Photographic Processes

Research on Historical photographic process and the history of photography development


videos explaining the Daguerreotype processing:

How to Make Daguerreotypes

Fox Talbot Calotype

Fox Talbots Calotype process

Wet-collodian process

Tin type is the same as wet plate collodion, but uses metal rather than glass to expose the image.

I heard a talk from Nicolas Laboire a couple of years ago. See my write up here. Watching this now really puts his work into perspective. I remember the actual glass images being beautiful. We don’t know how lucky we are having digital tools, in terms of access to the media and the lack of danger with regards to injuring yourself to make an image.

I would love to know how the people back then, actually figured out what chemicals to use.

https://www.thoughtco.com/photography-timeline-1992306 (Bellis, 2005) [accessed 9.3.20] gives a good timeline of the development of photography

Digital Photography

From Mary Bellis’s article on ‘History of the Digital Camera‘ was interesting and reminds me, that most of the fabulous advances in digital photogaphy, e been made during my adult lifetime!! (Bellis, 2019) – [accessed 9.3.20]

Where are we?

The backgrounds of our lives are not simply brightly-lit backdrops or catwalks to highlight us, the subjects; rather, they inform and direct us – positively or negatively – and become part of the fabric of our lives. Our backgrounds say a lot about who we are and being aware of our environment is important in understanding our identity.

Do you feel at one with the land and belong in the countryside? What does an urban landscape tell us about its inhabitants? How can the spaces between buildings speak of identity? Your ‘place’ may be more psychological or mental than physical. Perhaps you are an introvert.

What does this mean about how you move through physical places? Or perhaps you have a disability. How does this impact your day-to-day life? Does it help or hinder your position in your current environment? These are questions we will think about as we consider the work of many photographers during this course but you might like to reflect upon them now in your learning log.”

Boothroyd, S. and Roberts, K. 2019. Indentity and Place, Barnsley, OCA

I answered some of this in my previous post about constructing an honest portrait of myself. However, it’s a really interesting thought.

For me I think my sense of place is internal, the words from ‘A Million Dreams’ kind of sum it up for me:

I close my eyes and I can see,
The world that’s waiting up for me,
That I call my own,
Through the dark, through the door,
Through where no one’s been before,
But it feels like home

A Million Dreams, from The Greatest Showman

I do like to either be somewhere familiar and safe like my home, or I love being alone in the countryside. This is probably why I enjoy motorhoming so much. I have my own safe place to travel around in and explore.

I don’t like crowds or city urban settings but I do enjoy watching people from a distance. Conversely I really enjoy one to one conversations with people and am inherently interested in other people, culture and what makes them tick.

I’ve always thought of myself as a ‘happy’ photographer, portraying bright happy stories. However, I’ve recently realised that alot of my photography is quite dark and that I enjoy low light. Perhaps I’m looking for the light in dark places, watching from the shadows?

These couple of exercises have been a bit like therapy! I’m not used to laying my innermost feelings out on a page like this. It is, in fact, quite liberating.

Exercise 1: Constructing a Portrait

● If you have a social media profile picture, write a paragraph describing the ‘you’ it portrays. What aspects of yourself remain hidden?

This the picture I’m currently using as my Profile picture on FaceBook. I really don’t know what it says about me to be honest:

I’m a woman of a certain age, I’m very pale, I wear glasses, I’m not smiling, my hair’s a bit of a mess and it’s not a particularly good photo taken with a phone app that blurs the background.

I might ask what others think?

● If you were to construct a more ‘accurate’ portrait of yourself, including various aspects of who you are, what would you choose to include? How might you visualise these things?

I don’t like to smile in photos because having suffered from a condition call ‘Bells palsy’ many years ago, whilst I was pregnant, I have a wonky smile which I don’t like in photos. Of course someone who doesn’t know me, wouldn’t know that and those that do, probably wouldn’t notice because they know how I smile! Does this make me look grumpy? Perhaps I am!

To try and construct a more accurate portrait, I think it would have to include so many things, I work for the NHS as Quality Manager, have been married, divorced and married again, I have 3 children, 7 step-children, 8 grandchildren and am passionate about photography, motorhoming and bullet journalling. I am a creative introvert who lives a lot of her life in her head. I am doing a degree in photography because I want to prove to myself that I am intelligent and can create good art. I use my art to express my ideas an opinions because I’m not confident enough to express them myself publicly. How on earth can I depict all of that in one image?

Having learnt in the last course that everything in an image matters, I’m definitely going to have think about this and explore a few ideas before creating my new image.

● Try creating a new, more honest, self-portrait.

will add my new image here when I’ve created it

Grayson Perry

Although I’d vaguely heard of Grayson Perry before, I was very interested by his work on identity. In fact, I found him to a very interesting man and intrigued by his view of the world.

Grayson Perry: Turner Prize winner on transvestism, Trump and Brexit

In this video, Perry describes ‘Identity’ as complex. He identifies as a man that likes to wear dresses, rather than a man who is dressing like a woman because that’s what he’d like to be.

I was also interested by the fact that he said that pots and crafts were largely ignored by the ‘art’ world and that he found their thinking interesting and wanted to challenge that.

The Pool meets Grayson Perry: The Directors Cut

In this video Grayson Perry talks about the documentary he made on masculinity. I haven’t seen the documentary, but am absolutely fascinated by the thought process going on to make it. His comments at the end about creative people having an idea and then coming upon what he calls ‘the most difficult bit’, the journey to creating your vision which takes time and compromise and reworking, I related to in my work to date. It’s good hear that other artists, even ones who are world renowned, still have go through this journey to make their art.

This echos the course text (p23) which describes the ‘research and development’ stage of the artistic process. This the time when the artist collects as much information about their subject as they can and uses it alongside their vision and inspiration to create a final piece that the subject will recognise themselves within.

As a result the finished work is not merely a physical portrait of the subject, but should seem more “realistic and honest that the polished veneers we are used to seeing on social media”. This is reminiscent of the work I did for Assignment 3, of Context and Narrative, in which I used shoes as a surrogate for myself to create a set of Instagram pictures, to show that a picture of my face tells you very little, but images of my shoes. there uses and locations worn, said much much more about me.

He also speaks about how he has embraced the media to support his art. This is very enlightening, as an introvert, I’d say, sometimes I hide behind my art rather than using it to explore those unconscious issues that I could bring to the fore.

In another video, I watched, Perry referenced Julian Baggini and British Philosopher who said

“I is a verb, masquearding as a noun”

Julian Baggini