Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Twice Told Tuesday - Character in Portraiture

Twice Told Tuesday features a photography related article
from old photography books, magazines, and newspapers.

Yes, she has a great deal of character. And you know what they say, "Men never make passes at girls who wear glasses," unless of course they have the proper lighting. Right now she is going for $104.49 on eBay, so someone's making passes.


The ability to read character grows out of our interest in and sympathy for man. It is by no means confined to artists, but their intuition is usually strong and they have the ability to interpret character because of their training in art. The first stroke of an artist's pencil is indicative of a fine observation, and he values not least among his resources his power of right selection from the complex subject-matter offered by his sitter.

In contrast, observe the photographic methods. Lenses producing softness of outline are used by only a few. The large body of photographers still bestow their favor upon the lens that gives "all over" microscopic detail. Are not the methods of the trained artist and those of the photographer seen to be radically different?

Yet both aim at the same result Guide-books in European cities direct us to galleries of paintings replete with masterpieces in portraiture. As yet no nation seems to have been impelled to collect and house photo-likenesses. Is it because the photographer has used the same methods in picturing the statesman, the business man, the clergy, the farmer, in fact all types including the rogue ? Is it that the sameness of result fails to impress? Does not the great weakness in the photographer's position lie in this, — that he has placed all reliance upon lighting and the pose?

Lighting in photography as well as in painting is important. The pose should be studied in both branches of art because through it a certain character is revealed and picturesqueness is attained, but only manipulation of the photographic plate and possibly of the printing paper will so eliminate on the one hand and supplement on the other as to make the picture an expression of the mental vision of the artist-photographer.

Large possibilities will then open and the worker will sharply distinguish between the many kinds of portraits. For instance, some people lend themselves best to "character-head portraiture"; with these the face is to be so treated that the inherent traits of strong character shall be revealed. There are portraits for the extraordinary beauty of the face or a part of it;

Portraits to show the eyes especially;

Portraits for fine carriage of a head on a well-shaped neck and shoulders;

Portraits setting off jewels, fine laces, etc.;

Portraits expressing the inwardness of the sitter's nature, as Whistler's Mother, or his Carlyle;

Portraits revealing such traits of character as intellectuality (Lenbach); as "soul" (Van Dyck); as aristocratic nature (Van Dyck);

Portraits of types, viz., the musician, the artist, the man of the church, the scholar, the business man, the warrior;

Portraits where the whole figure is to impress us by its fine form and carriage or its elaborate costume;

Portraits where the figure is chiefly an excuse for the beauty an artist can infuse by his handling of light and shade or his decorative treatment;

Portraits for pomp and authority, regal;

Portraits of children with playthings or animal pets;

Portraits in the open air.

It is possible to depict any or all of these when the artist or artist-photographer builds up his picture scheme from the foundation. Facial expression without this basis is without substance or enduring interest.


Beck, Otto. Art Principles In Portrait Photography. Norwood Mass. 1907.


Alice Cavanaugh. Unknown. Digital Image. Holmes. eBay Auction.


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