Thursday, 17 January 2013

Trends in Portraiture

Le portrait officiel de François Hollande, 24e président de la République,
a été réalisé par Raymond Depardon, mardi 29 mai, dans les jardins de l'Elysée
© Le documentation française / Magnum photos




Since I spend a lot of time looking at ± 2000 different portrait pictures these Christmas holidays, it's safe to say I have a pretty good idea of what's hot & not in editorial portraiture in the Netherlands nowadays. I did this for the Zilveren Camera competition, so I also had to form an opinion whether I thought it was a good picture or not. Almost an impossible task, since 90 % were decent and generally good pictures! So when is it a special one? How to decide? To sharpen your judgement you have to look at all the pictures over and over again at different times of the day, so you can form a solid and honest opinion. Not an objective one of course, that's not only not possible, but also not wanted since you're asked for your personal input and not as a judging machine. So here is my two cents and without further ado; here are the trends in portraiture 2012! And probably also in 2013…

The Classical Painting Portrait

Definitely here to stay in the newspaper and magazines and a lot of the portraits were made like this. You put someone in a chair (or keep them standing if you want a more formal approach) near a window with soft lighting. The body is often in a 45 degree angle to the camera and the head is turned towards the camera or ('silhouette style') towards the light. It's all about texture, skin tones and showing the person in a flattering manner. This is photography mimicking 17th century paintings. Very beautiful and vulnerable when done right, very boring and clichéd when done wrong. This now seems very normal and not a trend, but 20 odd years ago this was not the way photographers showed us people in newspapers. It's the transition of art in media and the mixing of genres in general since the last decades.

The Fill-In Flash Portrait

Ever since Rineke Dijkstra became famous with this technique (and others before her), there is an abundance of pictures with variants of this approach. Subtle flash combined with natural lighting is most popular, but you also see more rebellious solutions, were the sitter is completely flashed out. No skin tones here. Also, the photographer is more present. The flash is showing the viewer that there is someone behind the camera altering reality in more obvious way than the Classical Portrait. 'Look here', the photographer whispers. And sometimes screams.

The Do-Something-Funny-With-The-Sitter Portrait

Why let the sitter just look into the camera!? That's boring! Let's do something! Standing in awkward positions, holding an item that is linked to the profession/situation of the person portrayed and most of the time smiling. It's theatre for our viewing pleasure. Here, the photographer is not fooling us; it's very obvious that the situation is made for the photo and tries to tell us something about the context of the person in it. A lot of it is often related with the work that the person does, and the photographer wants to show us an original and different view on the person we saw many times in the media the past year. Francois Hollande (the prime minister of France) asked at photographer Raymond Depardon (who was commissioned to take his official portrait) what to do with all the photographers who asked him to stand on tables or do other silly things. Depardon was very clear: never do anything like that. But then again, Depardon is a very documentary stylist himself.

The Desaturated Colour Portrait

A new way of treating pictures since Photoshop entered our world. It used to be black & white or colour, but now you also have a hybrid form: the desaturated colour photo. Often the colours become brownish and the texture metallic like. It's like HDR; when done in such a matter that you don't notice it the first time you look at a picture, but it sort of lingers in the background, the picture stays open and transparent. You are looking at the subject on the photo and not the photo itself. As soon as the photo itself becomes the subject, you don't look at the person on the picture anymore. Needless to say that the former is more preferred that the latter.

By the way: we saw a lot of the same pictures that were entered in the competition twice: one in colour, one in b/w. What's up with that? Make up your mind!

Robert Philip is a photographer and course leader at the Utrecht School of the Arts.

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