Face

Discussion in 'Philosophy' started by unrealnature, Dec 22, 2010.

  1. *Pease see the definition of "face" at the bottom of this post. In particular, "face ... is something that is not lodged in or on his body, but rather something that is diffusely located in the flow of events in the encounter."
    "... maintenance of face is a condition of interaction, not its objective. ... one learns about the code the person adheres to in his movement across the paths and designs of others, but not where he is going or why he wants to go there."​
    That is a quote from Erving Goffman that I've been thinking about reference still photography. In particular, does a still picture usually get only the "condition of interaction" and "not its objective"? Must one rely on props; references, symbols, setting to introduce "objective"? Given the critical role that pictures play in the presentation and maintenance of face, what is the photographer's role or right or obligation in this "interaction"?
    Here is the Goffman quote with more context:
    "... maintenance of face is a condition of interaction, not its objective. Usual objectives, such as gaining face for oneself, giving free expression to one's true beliefs, introducing depreciating information about the others, or solving problems and performing tasks, are typically pursued in such a way as to be consistent with the maintenance of face. To study face-saving is to study the traffic rules of social interaction; one learns about the code the person adheres to in his movement across the paths and designs of others, but not where he is going or why he wants to go there."​
    And, for the Definition Police, here is Goffman's definition of "face" as he is using it here:
    "... A person may be said to have, or be in, or maintain face when the line he effectively takes presents an image of him that is internally consistent; that is supported by judgments and evidence conveyed by other participants, and that is confirmed by evidence conveyed through impersonal agencies in the situation. At such times the person's face clearly is something that is not lodged in or on his body, but rather something that is diffusely located in the flow of events in the encounter and becomes manifest only when these events are read and interpreted for the appraisals expressed in them."​
    [All quotes are taken from Interaction Ritual: Essays on Face-to-Face Behavior by Erving Goffman (1967)]
     
  2. Duly noted, Ms. Julie. You make an inescapable point.
     
  3. There seems something inherently defensive about this concept of face, especially when it is tied into "saving face." The more non-defensive (non-"saving") aspects of it interest me more (not dissimilar to what we typically refer to as voice, I think).
    Goffman's description of face sounds like something we've discussed before . . . gesture, perhaps an expanded view of gesture that we might term "posture." (Not a defensive "posturing," but a neutral "posture.")
    "One learns . . . not where he is going or why he wants to go there."
    This is not necessarily true. One can learn many things both from interaction with people and from seeing people's photos. Sure, often viewers simply project and don't actually learn. That's because many viewers are too busy having a "subjective" experience to actually empathize with photographs and accept them on other terms but their own. I don't think intentions and goals have to be as private as Goffman is making out.
    Some (some) photographs tell us more than others.
    It's an idea worth pondering because it can address to what extent intentions can be observed. I think there are many visual clues to intent, often misread and, as I said, often projected. But the fact that they can be easily misread and projected doesn't mean that a discriminating observer can't be very much in sync with a photographer's intentions and goals, especially when the photographer is good at what he does.
     
  4. Fred said, "It's an idea worth pondering because it can address to what extent intentions can be observed."
    I find myself in a pickle reference observable intentions. Because ... First, is Goffman right in claiming that "condition" can be split off from "objective" or are the two inextricable. And second, if I accept that they can and are, in a photograph, how do I or can I know whose "objective" I am seeing; photographer or subject?
    I seem to feel, paradoxically, that the better the photographer, the more composed, crafted (better, more effective), the more I feel that it is the photographer's "objective" that I am witnessing, not that of the subject. In other words, I seem to feel that, almost by definition, if the "condition" has been so effectively employed to make a good picture, then the (good) photographer must have hi-jacked the "condtion" that he found in his subject to serve his/her own end. On the other hand, the worse the photograph, the less composed, the less crafted it is, the more likely I am to feel that I am witnessing the "objective" of the subject shown, and not that of the photographer.
    Trying further to see my way out of this hole, instead of envisioning the photographer as active (upon seeing the "condition" offered by a subject's "face" he uses it creatively to his own ends), I think perhaps a photographer could be the passive recipient of that "objective" and then be portraying what he (passively) received. In other words, instead of using the "face" he could try to show, in his pictures, how the subject affected him/her. (Luis, that's the best I can do; I know you're going to scold me ...) But how would a viewer know that this was the case, when/if it was the case? Heck, how would the photographer even know how valid his response was? And so on ... pickles, pickles, pickles everywhere.
    I have a hard time convincing myself of any examples of pictures where a good photographer was not or did not use the subject's persona to his/her own end. For example, Sally Mann (one of my favorite photographers) in her At Twelve series surely showed, wonderfully, the "face" of those children. However, I can't think that the "objective" of those pictures was not Mann's. I am similarly affected by Avedon's portraits and Goldin's work and so on. [In no way do I mean this as criticism! I just thinking about what I'm getting from their pictures.]
    Maybe Jaccques Henri Lartigue's pictures of his family are "conditon" and both photographer and subject's "objective" in unison?
     
  5. In other words, I seem to feel that, almost by definition, if the "condition" has been so effectively employed to make a good picture, then the (good) photographer must have hi-jacked the "condtion" that he found in his subject to serve his/her own end. On the other hand, the worse the photograph, the less composed, the less crafted it is, the more likely I am to feel that I am witnessing the "objective" of the subject shown, and not that of the photographer.​
    You're talking about two kinds of photographers here, the photographer as observer and the photographer as creator. Besides the two often intertwining, one isn't any more better or lesser than the other.
    I have a hard time convincing myself of any examples of pictures where a good photographer was not or did not use the subject's persona to his/her own end​
    How about self portraiture, a la Cindy Sherman, there's no subject to *use*, as the observer ( photographer ) was and is the observed ( subject ), both created equal. The viewer's perception of a persona becomes the subject.
     
  6. Julie, if you're talking mostly about portraits, I view most portraits as collaborations. Many (including my own) vary in terms of degree . . . sometimes there is more subject, sometimes more Fred, often good doses of both.
    Let's take Marlene Dietrich, a famous and remarkable persona and face. She was photographed by some extraordinary photographers. Whose "objective" are we seeing in those portraits? Dietrich's (or at least the persona she wanted to project) for sure. She is unmistakable. There is a consistency of person throughout her many portraits and stills by a variety of photographers. Many of those photographers, experts at their craft, did a great job with her . One can see the differences in the way Von Sternberg, for example, handled her from the way Hurrell and some others handled her. But I certainly don't think any of these great photographers overrode her objectives. Did they use her? Sure. They also paid homage to her. Did she use herself, and them?
    A portrait, like most other types of photos, is not necessarily a mirror of reality (and to the extent that it may be a mirror of reality, it is not a one-dimensional or single-perspective reality). A portrait is a new creation of sitter and photographer.
    So I'm finding myself not in agreement with the dichotomy you draw in your paragraph starting "I seem to feel . . ." You are saying: the better the photographer, the more we see the photographer's agenda. The worse the photographer, the more we see the subject's. I think it's more complicated and varied than that. And, though the word "hijack" might pertain in some cases, I think the great portrait photographers empathize with their subjects and don't see it as hijacking.
    "instead of using the 'face' he could try to show, in his pictures, how the subject affected him/her."
    Perhaps. And a good photographer may also be able to do both . . . and there would likely be no clear mark of distinction.
    Some of your questions may be about one of the most fundamental of philosophical issues. Do we always act (must we always act) with self interest or can we truly be magnanimous? I don't think photographs will answer such a question clearly and distinctly any better than any other aspect of life. Are our acts (especially acts toward or about others) always utilitarian in some sense, always meant to satisfy ourselves on some level, or may they proceed with more generosity than that? Is the glass half full or half empty?
    The beauty of portraits is that they dance the dance.
     
  7. Addition: A portrait photographer and a sitter may feed off each other and don't have to vie for each other's or the photo's soul.
     
  8. Phylo,
    "Face," in the sense that I'm using it, is not "in" the subject; it's not the same as the subject. As per Goffman's definition that I gave, it's "diffusely located in the flow of events in the encounter and becomes manifest only when these events are read and interpreted for the appraisals expressed in them." The "face" or roles that she inhabits (but which are not "her") are what Sherman works off of. She's playing, exactly, with the "appraisals expressed in them."
    Fred,
    "Face" is the dance. Face is the conversation. Face happens only with and because of the consent and cooperation of the other people present (and it only exists when other people are present). Which is not to say that all dance, all conversation is in support of face, but what is not is going to be immediately apparent in any social grouping as a break in/from the normal.
    Here is some more from Goffman to further hammer his point:
    " ... a person's attachment to a particular face, coupled with the ease with which disconfirming information can be conveyed by himself and others, provides one reason why he finds that participation in any contact with others is a commitment. A person will also have feelings about the face sustained for the other participants, and while these feelings may differ in quality and direction from those he has for his own face, they constitute a involvement in the face of others that is as immediate and spontaneous as the involvement he has in his own face. One's own face and the face of others are constructs of the same order; it is the rules of the group and the definition of the situation which determine how much feeling one is to have for face and how this feeling is to be distributed among the faces involved."
    "... Whatever his position in society, the person insulates himself by blindness, half-truths, illusions, and rationalizations. He makes an "adjustment" by convincing himself, with the tactful support of his intimate circle, that he is what he wants to be and that he would not do to gain his ends what the others have done to gain theirs. And as for society, if the person is willing to be subject to informal social control -- if he is willing to find out from hints and glances and tactful cues what his place is, and keep it -- then there will be no objection to his furnishing this place at his own discretion, with all the comfort, elegance, and nobility that his wit can muster for him."​
    Because Fred brought her up, I am going to use Marlene Dietrich as a case study in a separate post.
     
  9. This is from an article, "Appearance and Reality" by Gabriele Annan that first appeared in The New York Review of Books in 1985. It's about the documentary film that Karl Dirka made on Marlene Dietrich:
    "... The director chosen by Dirka waas Peter Bogdanovich. Dietrich turned him down because she did not consider him sufficiently famous, and she bullied the reluctant [Maximilian] Schell into directing as well as interviewing her [he was originally hired only for the interviews].
    ... Dietrich refused to appear in it [the film], and she never does -- except in clips from old movies, newsreels and tapes of her concerts. All you get is her voice on the sound track. Almost the first thing she says is Quatsch -- nonsense. She repeats the word many times during the ninety minute run, and almost a often she says Kitsch.
    Also, Dreck. to call her uncooperative would be an understatement.
    ... Dietrich abhorred the idea of being filmed as an old woman, and possibly she means it more than many stars do when she says private life is nobody's concern, nor even her own: 'Ich gehe mich einen Dreck an' -- an idiosyncratic construction which could be loosely translated 'I'm none of my own shitty business.' Her contract, she repeats in answer to Schell's pleading, was to be interviewed, not photographed: 'I've been photographed to death.' She won't even let him film her flat on the avenue Montaigne, and she won't discuss her films. Schell objects that in that case his film won't be very exciting. 'I'm not contracted to be exciting,' she barks.
    ... As for the dialogue between Dietrich and Schell, it is a duel -- a duel in the sun with Dietrich as the bull. It begins with her in the ascendent, ridiculing, teasing, taunting, refusing, denigrating. He has to coax, persuade, argue, threaten. Gradually, her nihilism gets under his skin, though he remains silky, the emollient Austrian baritone contrasting with her Prussian snarl. Like an experienced bullfighter, he shows off her ferocity until the moment of putting in the first barb. Then he asks her where in Berlin she was born. She can't remember. But she must remember the name of the street where she lived with her parents. Quatsch, of course not; and anyway, who cares? At this point the screen shows a selection of possible residences in pre-war Berlin. It begins with drearily proletarian tenements ...
    ... By dwelling on her implausible amnesia about her childhood, Schell makes the first crack in Dietrich's official self-portrait.
    [ ... skippping ahead ... ] ... She gets more and more rattled. 'You should go back to Mama Schell and learn some manners,' she snaps. He hounds her on deceptions. Why does she say she grew up an only child when there is a photograph of her with her sister who was only a year older? Why does she suppress Friedrich Hollander, who wrote the songs and played the piano in The Blue Angel, [ ... and so on and so on ... ]
    ... Schell ... uses his knowledge of what is closest to her heart when he moves in for the kill. It is 1945; a camera flies over Berlin; acre after acre of ruins fills the screen, limitless stretches of desolation. Meanwhile the city's pre-war street songs creep stealthily on to the sound track. Dietrich begins to hum along, entranced by examples of Berlin humour in the lyrics. 'Himmlisch, nicht?' (Divine, isn't it?), she half chuckles, half sobs. Her voice begins to go out of control; it weaves over the sound track like a drunk across the pavement.
    Schell delivers the final thrust. He begins to recite a poem -- a very bad poem ...
    [ ... skipping over how he gets her to cry ... ] ... Here Dietrich bursts into uncontrollable sobs. It makes an effective ending. Shocking. As shocking as a bullfight when the bull is old. It is not just another performance; not appearance, but reality.​
    That's an ugly example, with it's fight/kill language, but would the end have been better if Dietrich's reaction had been reached by wheedling and persuasion? Or would it be better to have left her "face" intact?
     
  10. That was some writing. Geez...It would have been different to have left her face intact, hard to say without the 2nd example whether it would have been better or worse. Maybe just another version.
    This face is more like 'interface' or dynamics at the boundary layer between people.
    Julie - I don't think you're seeing either the photographer's or subject's "face", but a kind of equation between the two.
     
  11. Come on, yo. This face thing is nothing but a mask just seating there waiting to be riped off.
     
  12. "A (the) face is meaning, and meaning without context"​
    "Le visage est signification, et signification sans contexte".
    (Ethique et infini (1982), Emmanuel Levinas
     
  13. Almost, Anders. Almost but not quite. It's not "context" but "history." Meaning without history.
    Think of a fossil ... No, wait, let me go back before that.
    Yesterday I was feeling the same as Luis's "Geez ..." about the Dietrich tear-down. Luis seemed to me to be right that what we get ought to be a meeting in the middle, but I couldn't see a photo as being some sort of mutant, mongrel mash-up "equation between the two." Strenuous efforts to find a "real" face behind Goffman's "face" left me with nothing but vapors. What is there after you take away all a person's context, when you rip off Ilia's mask? Smoke and mirrors?
    Well, duh -- took me all day to realize I was making a mistake in *kind.* Goffman's "face" is in-between; it's not "in" the person. The person is standing there in front of me all the time -- it's the biological being that I want to find in a photo. I want muscle, tendon, pores, wrinkles, hairs, snot, sweat, spit, tears; SKIN and living fullness. These things *are* the subject's; they are not in or of Goffman's "face" and these things are what I want to see, to get to find in a photograph. I want the biological, not the historical/social. Two different *kinds* of thing; not fashioned from the same stuff.
    But, I hear all of you immediately scolding me that the historical/social can never be left out. True, but that seems to me (for me) to be something I look through or past as frame/coordinates/orientation; that it's necessary but holds only a referential framing amount of my attention. I *can* enjoy a picture with a minimal or even no Goffman-face content. Goffman's "face" is how the/a face or person's flesh is made (fashioned) to carry the (informational) load of history. The coordinates of interaction through time; necessary for inter-action, but not for (solo) being/action.
    Which brings me back to fossils. A way to explain this for those confused by my (as usual) deranged posting, think of a fossil embedded in some geological formation. To an anthropologist, the context, the exact geological layer both laterally and vertically in which that fossil is found (equivalent to Goffman's "face") is essential. A fossil found out of context is nearly worthless, historically, at least. BUT, but, but ... the fossil alone, within its context, but even without its context, is a treasure trove of information/revelation about what that creature was like. Forensic anatomists can do amazing things.
    Fast-forward to the living, lived-in present. Think of us, here now as anthropologists on the "other side" of history. We don't have the distance of geological history that the anthropologist working with fossils has, but we have all the information that he is missing. We know all the stuff that he/she has to work out from the fossil; what the being looked like, acted like -- time is wide and fluid, has not hardened into a few inches of granite per million years. Think of photographers as anthropologists on the other side of history. And that's as far as I've gotten. Still thinking about this ...
     
  14. Julie, I think Goffman is blending personality and a person's ability to manage information about himself projected to others in the real world. He calls this personal public presentation "face." Face is what others "see" when they try to understand you. His point seems to be that you can understand that another person is nearby interacting with you, but, no matter what, a lot of information about that person remains hidden. This is doubtless to be equally true whether you have a camera with you or not.
    Goffman does not address deliberate acting, posturing, and other efforts to manipulate another person that demonstrate an artificial self in the material you quoted. All of these things serve to hide the nature of the current interaction as well as to make it nearly impossible to understand the true purpose behind it. Deceptions such as "I want to be your friend so I can rob you!" do not appear to be the subject of his observations.
    Much of photography and portraiture is all about acting of one sort or another. As someone else said earlier, many pictures are a collaborative effort for making an image that is not necessarily native to either the subject or the photographer. Art and imagination come into play. That is, many images create a fiction rather than a profound statement of the subject's purpose in life.
    I have come to believe that the Existential assertion about the absurdity of life can be seen in the everyday world around us which is filled with many thousands of details with no explanations at all. That is, it is impossible to know where the objects we see every day came from or who put them there. What makes this sort of thing absurd is that it should be no problem to find the story behind the ad in my mailbox, but it designed to persuade me to buy something, not to tell me how it was produced and how my name was chosen to receive it. It makes no sense that simple things are impossible.
    Well then, how about complicated things? How is one to understand another person? It makes sense that one ought to be able to discern and present the "real truth" found in another person, doesn't it? Julie, you are right. You cannot tell where the real person lies when you see him in a photograph. But then you would not be able to recognize it if you met him in person either. The image is exactly what it looks like to you. The reason for using suggestive objects, poses and symbols in pictures is to provide a context to stack the deck in favor of you getting some message or purpose for the picture he wants you to see.
    Doesn't this concern for discovering the real inner workings of a person's mind go beyond the capabilities found in photography? How much can the appearance of a person caught in an instant of time tell you anyway? See what I mean by the absurd? It makes no sense that you don't get more from a picture. For as little as you get, you might as well spare yourself the trouble of asking the question in the first place.
     
  15. Albert,
    We posted at almost the same time and I've just read yours. I'll be mulling what you've posted all day. (I love mulling ...) Thank you. Just from one quick read-through, I feel that what you've written is very close to how I was feeling all day yesterday while trying to get to the "real" face behind Goffman's. It was ... scary to, for a while, at least, not find anything solid there to stand on. (I mean this seriously; photography matters to me.)
     
  16. "A person may be said to have, or be in, or maintain face when the line he effectively takes presents an image of him that is internally consistent; that is supported by judgments and evidence conveyed by other participants, and that is confirmed by evidence conveyed through impersonal agencies in the situation."
    ---
    I think Goffman is blending personality and a person's ability to manage information about himself projected to others in the real world. He calls this personal public presentation "face." Face is what others "see" when they try to understand you. His point seems to be that you can understand that another person is nearby interacting with you, but, no matter what, a lot of information about that person remains hidden.​
    Reminds me of the novel Uno, Nessuno e Centomila ( One, No one and One Hundred Thousand ).
     
  17. Phylo, you just saved my Christmas, isolated at home and surrounded by snow storms. I have never read that masterpiece of Pirandello although I know it is somewhere on my shelves. Now is the moment.
     
  18. Phylo, precisely For a further example that describes exactly that, see here.
     
  19. The living, biological being is in the present. The skin doesn't look one way. It depends on how excited the person is, how sweaty, etc. But it also carries history with it. Genetics, the effects of diet, smoking, booze, anxiety, happiness, too much tanning, etc. These things are inseparable. One is mercurial, the other is fixed. Both are everpresent in the person and the photograph.
    "A fossil found out of context is nearly worthless, historically, at least."
    Like the living, it carries its own history. It may not be as readable or dense as if you found it in situ, but a lot of it is there. It also carries a more shared kind of history, as we all do.
    Are we really ersatz anthropologists? Maybe some documentarians would qualify, but I don't know if all of us fit under that rubric. Worse, most photographers are working out of antiquated, trite, beat-to-death ideas, fewer in the present, and fewer still, but significant, are the emissaries from the future, the people whose work is presently invisible to all but a tiny group and will begin to be generally understood 10+ years from now. We don't know everything the anthropologist doesn't, or even that which everybody living in the present knows, although I get, at least partially, the point Julie is driving at.
    Julie - "Goffman's "face" is how the/a face or person's flesh is made (fashioned) to carry the (informational) load of history. The coordinates of interaction through time; necessary for inter-action, but not for (solo) being/action."
    G-Face also involves the present...and in a photograph, it's the result of an interaction occurring at the boundary between two of those G-faces. Two histories and present (state) beings meeting, and each photograph contains a little of both, in fixed proportions, though that varies from one picture to another.
     
  20. Julie - "What is there after you take away all a person's context, when you rip off Ilia's mask?"
    Another mask. It's masks all the way down. :)
     
  21. "It's masks all the way down. :) " - Luis
    You mean it's snotty, sweaty, hairy, masked turtles (with taste) all the way down???!! Thank goodness for Photoshop.
    [I'll be answering your post-before-that-one in the morning; it's incubating at the moment ... ]
     
  22. I really hesitate to enter this discussion because I think that much of these discussions revolve around semantics. However, I was posted to Tainan, Taiwan in 1960 and had a role in dealing with both the military and civilians there. I quickly learned about what the Taiwanese and Chinese termed "face". It is essentially synonymous with "honor" and they talk about one's face in an open way. What was important to learn in negotiation was to leave others with honor and not too humiliate your counterpart; in other words to always leave to other person's dignity intact or with their "face". Face is, of course very important in Japan where preserving face or honor was on many occasions the key to staying alive. Losing "face" is something to be avoided in these cultures. We found in actual fact that it was important to be very cautious about using the common tactics here in the US of debasing and humiliating political opponents. This was not cultural practice then in Taiwan even though human nature being what it is this covered some pretty unsavory activities. This is a cultural practice that we could emulate more here. I think the concept of "face" in oriental cultures is as old as some of these civilizations and far older than other current definitions.. As far as photography goes I did a lot of faces for a newspaper and weddings and in my own photo studio. As far as face goes I would do almost anything to avoid a blank face. That means establishing some kind of a bond, even if fleeting with the subject in order to provoke a smile, a look of surprise or sagacity or delight or anger just to try to look inside the subject. I have tried to do anything to avoid bland pictures. A week ago I shot a couple hundred or more pictures at a very large swim meet. A lot of them were head shots. I wanted and got reactions that led away from blank, posed stares at the lens. This IMO is all about "face". I know there is somebody in there and I want to see just a glimpse of who that is.
     
  23. Julie - "You mean it's snotty, sweaty, hairy, masked turtles (with taste) all the way down???!!"
    I missed that party, but that's the rumor.
     
  24. The more I think about the term and specific ideas behind "face" (as presented here), the less I like them. Why co-opt a word that has an already fine and useful meaning to communicate what seems to be a rather fuzzy concept?
    " . . . not lodged in or on his body."
    And so here we have a de facto dualist, who can't seem to imagine that a face is actually a physical thing yet can play a profound role. He has to move it out of the realm of body in order to appropriate it to a level of philosophical significance. Big mistake.
    The thing about a face is that it's physical, it's surface, and it even has elements of being superficial. Which are all OK by me. There are deep truths in all those places.
    Albert sums something up beautifully when he says:
    "[M]any images create a fiction rather than a profound statement of the subject's purpose in life."
    I would only add that this kind of fiction can hold great truths. There is also a sense of truth and purpose that, for me, rises above "accuracy."
     
  25. Face, in the sense that Goffman uses it has a long history of usage; "saving face" and "losing face" have been around longer than "photography."
    As Dick Arnold has described in detail, Goffman's kind of face (I'll use Luis's "G-face" from here on) is everywhere. It is the currency of society. Every face-to-face encounter deals in its denominations. It has started wars, caused murders and marriages, elected presidents and justified imprisonment and torture. It's documentation/presentation/certification is the central interest of wedding, portrait, and event photography; it's failures and conflicts the subject of photojournalism and documentary photography.
    Artist's do creatively work against G-face -- and I'm happy that they do. For example, here is a description of a Bruce Naumann installation:
    … In the 1990s [Bruce] Nauman monumentalized the inversion of the human axis in his video installations. Collaborating with Rinde Eckert, he combined inversion with playacting, plainchant vocals, and Wittgensteinian language games in two multichannel video installation, Anthro/Socio (Rinde Facing Camera) (1991) and Anthro/Socio (Rinde Spinning) (1992). In almost a travesty of traditional anthropological and ethnographic systems of faciality, giant close-ups of Rinde dominate the monitors and projections, some turned upside down and some spinning while chanting, “Help me, hurt me sociology; Feed me, eat me anthropology.” Nauman’s self-portrait entitled Raw Material: Brrr … (1990), a two-channel video and two-channel sound installation featuring a large projection and two monitors stacked atop one another, is particularly poignant. The artist’s face is presented at ninety degrees to the vertical, shaking from side to side, and regressively stammering the primal sound “brrr,” the beginning letters of his first name and perhaps a reference to his neon work My Name as though It Were Written on the Surface of the Moon (1968). German critic Ursula Frohne has described Raw Material: Brrr … in the following terms:
    "Caught in an incurable fixation of self-expression, it seems to bear witness to the overwhelming inner conflicts that are carried out in the unconscious. Its behavior is reminiscent of a catatonic’s convulsions and involuntary contractions, compulsive symptoms that are the result of a psychic instability manifested as physical reactions."
    In Frohne’s scenario, even catatonics convulse (a clinical impossibility) while conflicts rage within and the psyche is destabilized. The face, the primal voice, and the inner torments of the artist become little more than agitated “raw material” stretched across the horizontal , exteriority and interiority united in portraying the barely utterable, the unnameable.
    Across the horizontal of contemporary culture, the face’s features are now scattered and strewn along an entropic terrain of the mind, soul, and psyche. Nothing coheres; even the landscape has become fractured and fragmented, and Cartesian space is eradicated. Body parts are disassembled, their scales shifted; perspectives are dissolved into myriad viewpoints, and language reduced to grunts and shrieks.
    [Above is from Ghost in the Shell: Photography and the Human Soul, 1850-2000 by Robert A. Sobieszek (1999)]​
    Or, in a negative strain, you get this from Max Kozloff:
    "… Many nineteenth- and twentieth-century photographers were actually not hostile to the face; they merely isolated the facial sign by treating it as a mask. Medical, criminal, and ethnographic portraits; Adolphe-Eugéne Disderi, the creator of cartes-de-visite; Lászó Moholy-Nagy, Robert Mapplethorpe, idealists of light or muscle; Annie Leibovitz’s celebrity shots; Nancy Burson and Keith Cottingham virtuosi of face-altering computer manipulation: stylistically, these have little enough in common. Yet conceptually, they exhibit a weird solidarity. For time and again, they determine the role of the face while characteristically disregarding its owner. A certain absence brings them together, an absence of inquisitiveness about the one before the camera. The light was on in their house of physiognomy, but no one was there."​

    I am interested in how "face" is used in all of the above; it hangs there, whether used, respected or ignored as the channel that connects.
     
  26. Julie, the inter-"face" between us is too odd for me to continue. Your face keeps transforming into the faces of others and I find it impossible to hold the conversation with you, yourself. I don't want to have one with your "sources" (having not read them myself so as not to do them justice) so I'll drop it here.
     
  27. By the way, in the isolated quote above, Kozloff severely underestimates and misreads portraiture. He doesn't seem to know how to look at a photograph and also seems to have misplaced expectations. In fact, he's the one, in this quote at least, who isn't inquisitive about the particular photographs he's looking at. Rather, he seems to have a preconceived notion of what "the one before the camera" is, as if there is some singular answer to that question or some one particular static identity that the photographer is "supposed" to be "capturing." Who does he think was before Leibowitz's camera, or Mapplethorpe's or Moholy-Nagy's? He's looking for some "real" person, some one-dimensional self, something definite and defined, who is merely a figment or projection of his imagination.
     
  28. The article "Appearance and Reality" describes a film where a man makes an old woman weep who apparently did not want to weep in public. Called in the article a shocking moment. How would one present such a moment in still photography? I know, a clown crying. Just kidding! But was the film such a cliche? Was it yet another performance by a famous woman and not the woman's reality at all? If yet another performance, how could all that be captured in still photograhy? Too many layers for still? Yes, for me it is too many confusing layers.
     
  29. Fred, I have always and will always rely heavily on sources. I am the student, not the teacher.
    Here is more from the same Kozloff piece -- which is from a review in Aperture 160 (Summer 2000) of a show, The Ghost in the Shell: Photography and the Human Soul, 1850-2000,” at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art:
    "[the show's curator] Sobieszek says : "I am concerned . . . with the very real corporeality . . . of the human face, the mechanics by which our contenances articulate the inexpressible nature of the human spirit, and how this spirit has been and continues to be visually expressed through or represented by the camera arts."
    This is a worthwhile objective, but it ran constantly against the grain of the most resistent material -- imagery with an institutional rationale that expressly ignores, or with an artistic license that depreciates, the human spirit.
    ... When ego comes to the fore, it tends to isolate the face in its own internal drama, or even to resonate with a certain loneliness. When a photograph emphasizes the worldly placement of the sitter, on the other hand, the face's performance impresses us as comfortable -- the comfort of implied association -- and gains in readability. Yet what excites us about portraiture is that, at the moment of exposure, regardless of what scripts have been prepared, all bets are off.
    ... [In post-modern portraiture] Either we have an indefinite and chaotic array of physical signs, or a gallery of denatured "meanings," looking for a sign.
    ... [On the other hand] in the best portraits, so in this one [Paul Strand's Blind], the stimulus arises out of a generosity extended toward others, even if it must recognize their pain.
    ... [For example] ... we perceive loneliness in portraiture as a state with which we can emphathize. For it signifies that very recognizable and human condition of being among our fellows, but not with them. How often the feeling of it comes to us in a face shaded with regret or introspection. You can see it in Roy DeCarava's Billie Holliday, as well as in the melancholy of Alfred Stieglitz's portraits, Albert. S Southworth's daguerreotypes have it, too. There's something tender about the light in these umbrageous pictures, a hovering or modulated tone in which the characterization subsides. Yet, when we engage with these sitters, our tentative distance from them seems reduced, as if their self-reflectiveness had been drawn out to merge with our own.
    Far from being marginal, this perception is common in the experience of portraiture. Without doubt, the characterization of loneliness is an artifice, contrived in different ratios by both the sitter and the portraitist. At the same time, the appeal of loneliness plays upon a social sentiment, a viewer's solidarity with those who, higher or lower in worldly station, compose themselves before the lens for largely unknown and absent publics. An artist's vision is possibly at stake on these occasions, but so is the subject's dignity. And as the suspense of their encounter manifests itself, the open sense of the picture radiating with subtle possiblities, the sitters become part of our thought.​
     
  30. Students can learn to think for themselves.
    But, Julie, as you wish. Others may get things out of the quotes. It's me. I prefer a dialogue.
     
  31. My perspective . . . a repeated pattern.
    A narrow, specific, and usually direct or opinionated quote is posted. Responses to those specific ideas come in from PN members. Then another quote is supplied by the same (or similar) author which widens the original concept or, often, directly refutes the gist of the original quote. The responses that had come in to the first quote, therefore, often are rendered moot because only now, crucial further information is revealed that would likely have changed the initial responses. We have moved from talking about the initial specific ideas to a specific author's wider and ever widening remarks, but only revealed slowly. It's a very different experience from reading the source's full and well-thought-out and articulated ideas as a whole to begin with. Presented this way, the target and the point is always moving and never can be fully grasped because what are very specific ideas in the first quotes become obviously bigger but also incomplete ideas in short order. It doesn't feel like it's intended as such, by any means, but it winds up being manipulative and disingenuous, often unfair to the original sources, whose ideas become more of a messy maze than a coherent mass.
    Again, Julie, this is just how it hits me, personally. If it suits you, I'm sure you will continue. I may be the only mate you lose here which probably is no big loss indeed.
     
  32. Fred - "Others may get things out of the quotes. It's me. I prefer a dialogue."
    On this forum, I get things out of both, sometimes even out of the monologues, and like the idea of leapfrogging (no, not on an A-B basis) between quotes and dialogue isn't a bad thing. If a post has an approach I'm not interested in, I leave it alone.
    Kozloff, who isn't a bad photographer, btw, raises some interesting points. In a way, it seems like we're dealing with projections as much as we are the physical, living skin, and on both sides of the camera. The face(s) the sitter(s) projects can be inhaled by the lens. What the photographer projects can only be reflected back through the lens (unless it's a self-portrait). Call it a sum, subtraction, multiplication or division, whatever reaches the sensor or film is an interaction, even if minimal on one side.
    A tiny number of photographers, and not just portraitists, are aware and fast enough to capture fleeting, subconscious micro-expressions.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Microexpression
    These are almost like a marginal sub-category of the G-face.
    MK - "Far from being marginal, this perception is common in the experience of portraiture. Without doubt, the characterization of loneliness is an artifice, contrived in different ratios by both the sitter and the portraitist."
    I'm not so sure that it is an artifice, and think of that as relational, not a discrete quality, but the different ratio idea is more or less what I was referring to as an equation a few posts above.
     
  33. Oops, I didn't realize Fred had posted while I was typing. I agree that there are shortcomings to the quote thing, including the widening gyre & ensuing dissipation/supercession effect, though it has positives also, as the discussion drifts and evolves, refines and dissolves, but...this is not a formal setting. It will rarely, if ever, have the structure or elegance of one, and is at the whim of a variety of poster's styles of expression, not to mention cultural backgrounds, which is as intended (I think).
    I hope Julie will continue in her own way, and Fred in his.
     
  34. Luis, certainly a lot of what you say is reasonable and rational. I will point out that what you say, however, though it sounds rational and, dare I say, adult, is not altogether true. You don't always leave alone posts that have an approach you're not interested in. Reference the many well-deserved harsh responses you've had for one particular acerbic serial poster. It's really just that what annoys you and what you speak up about is different from what annoys others and what they may speak out about.
    Beyond that, though you make a good point about each of us having varying styles and cultural backgrounds, etc. that also only takes us so far, I think. It's not unlike dialogues we have about each others' photos in the critique section (and I know this is a philosophy forum and not a critique forum and there are differences). Presentation is eminently important to photographers, as is style. And, even though photographers have different cultural backgrounds, and those should be taken into account, still style and presentation are criticizable even while keeping those differences in mind. Though I think ad hominem attacks absolutely should be avoided (and most of us have been guilty of one or two), I think questions and even criticisms of style and presentation of ideas should not necessarily be avoided. The presentation of ideas, at least as far as I'm concerned, is significant to the ideas themselves and, I think, fair game to address in an open and honest forum. I think where we run afoul of each other is much more in attitude and disrespectfulness (again, I've certainly been a culprit here) and not in an honest analysis or questioning of how ideas or questions are presented and seen through.
    Criticism of presentation and style here in the forums can become a distraction and is probably well done at a minimum, but when it's affecting the ability to understand and communicate, I think it deserves to be addressed and, if done efficiently, can improve our interactions, just like critiques as well as photos can be improved upon by talking about each.
     
  35. Luis said, "In a way, it seems like we're dealing with projections as much as we are the physical, living skin, and on both sides of the camera. The face(s) the sitter(s) projects can be inhaled by the lens. What the photographer projects can only be reflected back through the lens (unless it's a self-portrait). Call it a sum, subtraction, multiplication or division, whatever reaches the sensor or film is an interaction, even if minimal on one side."
    Put on your seatbelt, Luis. You've triggered blast-off (and I'm so glad you're there because I'm pretty sure you'll get what I mean, no matter how loony).
    Have you ever seen those explanations of space-time that describe how matter distorts it as if it's a weight on a rubber surface, where the rubber surface represents space-time? I'm thinking of the subject of a portrait as that weight; it's there bending my visual space-time. It affects, distorts, to a greater or lesser degree everything. Because it's there, everything is changed. That change, that distortion *is* the portrait. In other words, the way that it changes my whole surround. (I think that it's the business of a portrait to "translate" into the visual what is not visual -- and, equally important, to remove or neutralize that which is visible which will be misleading in the absence of the non-visual surround.)
    But ... I, you, the viewer, the photographer, all of us along with the subject(s) have weight as well. We distort, we bend space/time (and a few dozen more meaningful dimensions, if you ask me), so we've got binary orbit -- and, oh, look, it's the three-body problem!
    Erm ... *cough* where was I? Somewhere in all that, I can *feel* what a good portrait is like or does. It bends me when I'm near it. As opposed to other kinds of pictures that feel more like a push or a pull; an impact, an interaction, but not a sort of permanent state/orbit. (Which is how it seems to me Charles Woods' crying woman would affect me, for example.)
    Okay, that ends my looniness -- for the moment.
     
  36. Fred - "You don't always leave alone posts that have an approach you're not interested in."
    True, but I'm trying harder to do as I say. I've left more than a few alone recently since a blinding flash (looked like an old Ascor) zapped me on the road to Emmaus.
    Addressing style issues in posting is, IMO, part & parcel of a forum like this. I'm in agreement with it, but was simultaneously lamenting the idea of Fred sitting one out.
    _______________________________
    Julie: " That change, that distortion *is* the portrait. In other words, the way that it changes my whole surround. (I think that it's the business of a portrait to "translate" into the visual what is not visual -- and, equally important, to remove or neutralize that which is visible which will be misleading in the absence of the non-visual surround.)"
    I guess I talk/am loony because I get it. In fact, it is right along the lines of what I was thinking earlier, though within a Relativity Physics framework. And that distortion is sizzling, undulating and shifting moment-by-moment.
    One of the things said earlier, I forget who said it, (Kozloff?) the thing about environmental inclusions in portraiture, reminded me of some of Fred's portraits, where the setting plays a perceptible, if not significant, part in the gestalt of the image.
     
  37. Luis, note that those environmental effects are the polar opposites of G-face. In G-face, the outer defines or distorts our perception of the person; here it is the person who distorts the surround. And, what, really is this environmental effect ("distortion) that a viewer might feel?
     
    Here's the problem with my rosy picture of the delicious distortion of devine depiction. There is a non-parallelism in portrait photography that does not exist in un-peopled pictures. The picture/viewer pair is potently reversed from the photographer/subject pair. See if you can spot the difference:
    I (playing the part of "viewer," happily ensconced, by myself with a book of lovely photographic portraits) open the book (I could be in a museum or a gallery, but then I'd have to shave my legs, first which disagreeable task would contaminate our experiment). I can, with minimal effort, reduce my own G-face (who/what/where) so that "I" am to a low hum -- in order to be as receptive as possible to the effect of the pictures therein. I am therefore able to be, as I said in my post above, "bent" by the pictures. In the binary orbit of myself (viewer) and picture, the picture has almost all of the weight, therefore I get this lovely "bending" effect. "Oh, what wonderful portraits!" I exclaim.
    Now, compare that to the following:
    Two people in settled binary orbit, comfortably having normal everyday interactions. G-face in good order, each party knows who/what/where he is relative to the other, they've reached stable orbit that is probably not too far from equal or at least such that neither overwhelms the other and neither ignores the other. Then one of them pulls out a camera.
    Red alert! Orbit collapse! Camera-person has the death star -- or the magic wand of fortune, depending on the calculations of the un-camera-ed person. MAX G-face! MAX G-face! Spread all tail-feathers! Bring out the good silver! Shave your legs! This guy can either break your G-face or make you a star! Whatever you do, don't take your eyes off him/her! In this camera/subject pair, the camera-ed person massively outweighs the un-camera-ed person. No matter what the camera-ed person does and no matter whether the un-camera-ed person fears or loves the camera, the orbit has been severely distorted. A picture is going to inevitably get subject G-face efforts to counter or coopt a massive external distortion.
    So, returning to our trusty hairy-legged viewer, it would seem that she is quite possibly getting affected, distorted, not only (or even mostly) because the picture is a wonderful portrayal but because she's getting the orbital response to a weight that she doesn't have. It's as if the sun was orbiting the moon, not the other way around. The moon would be surprised ... (then, of course, the sun would fling it out of the galaxy and I have my sensation of being "bent" ... ). Is the effect of good portraits on a viewer simply due to a discombobulated out-of-context G-face exposition?
    I got into thinking about this when reading a footnote in Kozloff's own book The Theatre of the Face: Portrait Photography Since 1900 (2007). I'm going to assume that you know of Thomas Ruff's deadpan portraits (I know that Luis does; by "you" I mean ... you.):
    "19. That Ruff's posing regimen was repressive is easily seen when compared with an exhibition called 'Girls on Film,' Carpenter Centre for the Visual Arts, Harvard University, 2005. It was a show consisting of images retrieved from discarded Hollywood film leaders of the 1950s. Young women posed with colour bars to function as guides used by technicians in processing labs to achieve an even colour balance from one reel to another. There could be no question of anyone looking at them for themselves, as human beings. They knew it, but they couldn't help smiling!"​
     
     
  38. « Face…….something that is diffusely located in the flow of events in the encounter »


    « Face…..becomes manifest only when these events are read and interpreted for the appraisals expressed in them."


    I admit to coming to this late and not yet having read the responses to the OP, but in considering the OP (through the above snippets from the essay quoted) I wonder how important can be something that underlies the photographer’s theme or approach, or the event described by the subject matter, but which becomes manifest only when the events are interpreted by the viewer, that is, when the theme or the objectives of the photograph are more fully analysed and understood.
    This may or may not require symbols or other visual elements other then the chosen subject matter of the image and how it is approached. Face might acquire practical importance if, like a musician’s style in playing, it is noted during the performance or appreciation of the music, rather than after the fact. A photographer’s face or the face of the event or manner in which the subject matter is being presented, would seem to me to be of importance if recognised not after the fact (as mentioned in the second mini-quotation above), but during the appreciation (creation or, laterally, the viewing).
     
  39. Julie said:
    I seem to feel, paradoxically, that the better the photographer, the more composed, crafted (better, more effective), the more I feel that it is the photographer's "objective" that I am witnessing, not that of the subject. In other words, I seem to feel that, almost by definition, if the "condition" has been so effectively employed to make a good picture, then the (good) photographer must have hi-jacked the "condtion" that he found in his subject to serve his/her own end. On the other hand, the worse the photograph, the less composed, the less crafted it is, the more likely I am to feel that I am witnessing the "objective" of the subject shown, and not that of the photographer.​
    This observation touches on my previous post about "a brief interruption in the space time continuum," in which I said my favorite types of portrait were when the photographer only very "lightly" and briefly imposes on the subject, just long enough to catch an exchanged glance, as opposed to the studio or highly set up photos of say, Annie Liebovitz. I feel there is less "highjacking" going on in the "brief interruption" approach, and hence, a more "authentic" portrait, resulting in more information about the subject and less about the photographer. Unlike Julie, I don't feel that the "worst" photographs: less crafted, etc., are more objective. If that were true, I would just close my eyes and randomly photograph blindly. Even in that case, you don't then know how the subject is responding to that maneuver and would that in fact taint the whole interaction.
     
  40. Julie: "Luis, note that those environmental effects are the polar opposites of G-face. In G-face, the outer defines or distorts our perception of the person; here it is the person who distorts the surround. And, what, really is this environmental effect ("distortion) that a viewer might feel?"
    Here I'm going to be contrarian re: G-Face Theory because the environment, while subject to the sitter's (to continue in the Relativity analog) field distortions, also affects the sitter's Face & has some influence on the way the viewer perceives G-Face.
    JH - "I could be in a museum or a gallery, but then I'd have to shave my legs, first which disagreeable task would contaminate our experiment."
    [Personal Note] Trust me, it's not required, and not just in European museums/galleries. When I was heavy into road cycling, I used to shave my legs. While my girlfriends loved it, I ran into trouble more than once.
    I'm not so sure I want to dowshift my G-Face when viewing a book in order to let the pics have their way with me. I think this butts up again with Fred's dualist comment. Why can't I be fully me when engaging a book or print at a museum/gallery?
    JH - "Red alert! Orbit collapse! Camera-person has the death star -- or the magic wand of fortune, depending on the calculations of the un-camera-ed person. MAX G-face! MAX G-face! Spread all tail-feathers! Bring out the good silver! Shave your legs! This guy can either break your G-face or make you a star! Whatever you do, don't take your eyes off him/her! In this camera/subject pair, the camera-ed person massively outweighs the un-camera-ed person."
    The opposite is also true. The right sitter can hold the 'death star' (such drama!) as well and outweigh the bejeezus out of the photographer -- and camera, specially if there's a contract with the publicist. Plus, ahem, forgive me for saying this, but er...this is edging towards the Dietrich diatribe, isn't it?
    I agree that whipping out the Holga changes everything, but...the distortion goes both ways. The photographer's G-Face is going to also shift. And, worse, this is not a fixed relationship between heavenly bodies, but more of a tug of war, ever shifting on a moment-by-moment basis.
    Hmmm...my own take on Ruff's portraits vs the 'Girls on Film' is that Ruff's subjects were mostly his own friends, or friends of friends who volulnteered to sit, and the portraits, IMO, are not so much repressive as they are clinical (and to a degree pseudoscientific, in the sense of elimination of variables) in the style of the Bechers and perhaps more so the Botanical Studies of Blossfeldt who preceded the Bechers and was studied in depth at the Dusseldorf School.
    Ruff:
    http://www.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://projects.vanartgallery.bc.ca/publications/75years/exhibitions/images/renders/VAG-88.51.1.jpg&imgrefurl=http://misssafeera.wordpress.com/2010/12/03/thomas-ruff/&h=499&w=374&sz=26&tbnid=aXcuDqzPBdPvZM:&tbnh=130&tbnw=97&prev=/images%3Fq%3DThomas%2BRuff%2Bportraits&zoom=1&q=Thomas+Ruff+portraits&hl=en&usg=__cs2RpSUKbQFN68TQ0AFYfbLgdwM=&sa=X&ei=1ugYTfPWN8L38Abiy7XDDg&ved=0CB4Q9QEwAg
    Blossfeldt
    http://www.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://artblart.files.wordpress.com/2009/03/karl_blossfeldt_06.jpg%3Fw%3D400%26h%3D497&imgrefurl=http://artblart.wordpress.com/2009/03/28/exhibition-plant-studies-by-karl-blossfeldt-and-related-works-at-die-photographische-sammlungsk-stiftung-kultur-cologne/&h=497&w=400&sz=27&tbnid=f7xsPiAxE2gh2M:&tbnh=250&tbnw=201&prev=/images%3Fq%3DBlossfeldt%2Bplant%2Bphotographs&zoom=1&q=Blossfeldt+plant+photographs&hl=en&usg=__N5d8GqPlaqCrypBoAB2YI8bpsiw=&sa=X&ei=7ugYTcXxGIT78Ab55qT6DQ&ved=0CB0Q9QEwAA
    In the case of the show at the Carpenter Center, we're talking about a very different dynamic. Inasmuch as I respect Kozloff, I think he has this one backwards. These models, often generically known as "Shirleys" or "China Dolls" were hopeful, wanna-be starlets or office workers working for peanuts, if anything. They are depicted in stereotypes, which to me is infinitely more oppressive than what Ruff was doing. Their smile is nothing more than a response to power and demand characteristics. Do you think the guys behind the camera were sitting there with deadpan faces?
    http://www.news.harvard.edu/gazette/2005/07.21/00-girls.html
     
  41. Two people in settled binary orbit, comfortably having normal everyday interactions. G-face in good order, each party knows who/what/where he is relative to the other, they've reached stable orbit that is probably not too far from equal or at least such that neither overwhelms the other and neither ignores the other. Then one of them pulls out a camera....
    No matter what the camera-ed person does and no matter whether the un-camera-ed person fears or loves the camera, the orbit has been severely distorted. A picture is going to inevitably get subject G-face efforts to counter or coopt a massive external distortion.​
    What if the camera was hidden and the subject unaware of the camera's recording. There's still the photographer operating the camera, but there's no context of a photographer or camera to make a 'distortion', there's only the viewer of the resulting photograph doing so.
    L'autre :
    " We see the same thing in the essay Baudrillard has written on the photographer Luc Delahaye, who takes – following, it must be said, the example of the American photographer Walker Evans in the 1930s – photographs of people sitting across from him in trains with a hidden camera. Of course, the uncanny thing about the photographs is that, given the efforts of each of the subjects to maintain their own private space within the carriage, they do not look at the photographer who sits so close to them, while the photographer for his part also does not look (only his camera does).
    The subjects’ mouths are slack, their eyes unfocussed, their features not “made up” for public consumption. Baudrillard in his text quotes a passage from a short story, “The Adventure of a Photographer”, by Italo Calvino, in order to capture something of this feeling of looking upon others while they are not aware of you: “To catch Bice in the street where she did not know he was watching her, to keep her within the range of hidden lenses, to photograph her as she was in the absence of his gaze, any gaze ... It was an invisible Bice that he wanted to possess, a Bice absolutely alone, a Bice whose presence presupposed the absence of him and of everybody else”.

    But this indifference – as in Suite vénetienne – is soon overtaken by something else. For in a second reading of the work, these faces are no longer simply there before us in their passivity and unawareness, entirely revealed before our gaze, but are withdrawn, appear to hide something, contain a secret somewhere within them. As Baudrillard writes, it is not so much here a question of “what remains of the Other when the photographer isn’t there as what remains of the Other when the Other isn’t there”.

    Thus, as in the game of Suite vénetienne, it is not merely a matter of the projection of the subject onto the object, but of the object onto the subject. We attempt to put ourselves in the place of the Other, to see ourselves from their position, to understand them as somehow possessing the secret of our destiny, having something to tell us about who we are. Here begins, according to Baudrillard, the whole “moral anthropology” of contemporary photography, in which we try to read meaning into these faces, to force signification onto them. And this is all part of a whole contemporary scene of a generalised and weakened “seduction”. As Baudrillard writes: “There’s the same reversal everywhere, expressing a fatigue on the part of the subject, a weariness of being oneself and asserting oneself. And also the secret confused demand that the Other should think us, that the objects of the world should think us”.

    For, as Baudrillard goes on to suggest, this “reversal” is in fact the new version of our encounter with the Other, which takes the form not of “Reply to my question!” but “Tell me what question I am to ask you!” But this is not a real encounter with the Other in its otherness or indifference, for it is an otherness from the beginning only determined by us, understood as a reflection of us. We already take this “Other” into account and play on it, put ourselves in its position and observe ourselves from it. Again, as Baudrillard asks: “Given the minimal degree of desire, destiny and will we have attained today, we no longer ask the Other to be like us. We ask him only to be Other, to have a minimal glimmer of otherness, to attempt to be – at least for me – an object of desire (and, in the case of cinema or photography, a technical object of desire)” "
    ( http://www.ubishops.ca/baudrillardstudies/vol2_1/butler.htm )​
     
  42. Happy New Year everyone!
    Don Quixote has always had a certain appeal for me. He is the quintessential anti-hero who gets the idea that a thing ought to exist and then he sets out to find it - make it up if necessary just to make sure it's there. Of course the humor, and to some the pathos, of the piece is his tenacity for preserving his own self-deception. Don Quixote is a man chasing the shadow of Truth he thinks he can see in a windmill.
    I suppose it's pointless to try to explore the actual capabilities of the equipment used for photography to find out how it might be used to get beneath the surface layer of the objects that serve as its subjects. But this seems to be exactly what might help JH the most.
    Through the smoke, fog and BS there seems to be a legitimate question here, namely, "How is it possible for a person to reach the Truth about a person who is the subject of a photograph?" I don't mean that we need some sort of subject penetrating technology for our pictures, but rather a picture that shows the person as she would be alive in front of the viewer.
    My previous response suggested that it would not be worth the effort to try an answer. In Julie's defense, the fact is that people are pulled into a mystery. Even huge maze like puzzles are fair game for some. JH seems discontent with only the shadow of Truth. She seems to think that there ought to be more. Yes there should - but that is absurd.
     
  43. Albert,
    True! Very true ... I can't think when was the last time I did something that *wasn't* absurd. Maybe buying dental floss last month?
    Phylo, awesome quote. I love it and I'm still thinking about it. You're circling closer ... Here's the thing. I don't think I want people who don't know they're being photographed. If they're in public, I think they have their plastic in-public face on; the one that doesn't bother people or attract attention and runs on auto-pilot. I also don't want dead people, sleeping people, people in comas, people drunk out of their mind. Also (as portraits) no people engrossed in sports or life-threatening activities. (Dern, I'll have to forego Luis-on-a-bicycle with his beautiful legs.)
    Here's a description that I like of what a good, absurd portrait might do for me. This is Barthes talking about the movies:
    "… The film image (including the sound) is what? A lure. I am confined with the image as if I were held in that famous dual relation which establishes the image-repertoire. The image is there, in front of me, for me: coalescent (its signified and its signifier melted together), analogical, total, pregnant; it is a perfect lure: I fling myself upon it like an animal upon the scrap of “lifelike” rag held out to him … In the movie theater, however far away I am sitting, I press my nose against the screen’s mirror, against that “other” image-repertoire with which I narcissistically identify myself (it is said that the spectators who choose to sit as close to the screen as possible are children and movie buffs); the image captivates me, captures me: I am glued to the representation, and it is this glue which established the naturalness (the pseudo-nature) of the filmed scene (a glue prepared with all the ingredients of “technique”); the Real knows only distances, the Symbolic knows only masks; the image alone (the image-repertoire) is close …"​
    Did you get that, Albert? "I fling myself upon it like an animal"! Do you understand "close"?
    [Quote is from Roland Barthes essay Leaving the Movie Theater (1975)]
     
  44. Yes I do get it. No matter how convincing a mirage is, or how passionate you feel about it, it gives you no water to live on.
     
  45. ....it gives you no water to live on.​
    Ouch. Ouch.
    I don't believe there is much water there in the shadow of truth, though for all of us the water found there is enough on which to live for at least a while. We all struggle awkwardly with the more.
     
  46. Albert - "Through the smoke, fog and BS there seems to be a legitimate question here, namely, "How is it possible for a person to reach the Truth about a person who is the subject of a photograph?" I don't mean that we need some sort of subject penetrating technology for our pictures, but rather a picture that shows the person as she would be alive in front of the viewer."
    I disagree. There's lots of legitimate questions here besides the one Albert poses. Not everyone would agree with the idea that there is one "the Truth" about each sitter to be had, or that it is to reproduce a visual facsimile of what "the viewer" sees when said person is standing in front of them.
    _______________________
    A few pictures that come to mind with this thread:
    "Street Faces", candid, without the "distortion"...
    http://www.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://www.jameslomax.com/images/683.jpg&imgrefurl=http://www.jameslomax.com/words/501/philip-lorca-di-corcia&usg=__oieQHuMJaqk2Estxu1Yk-Vcyi_E=&h=300&w=300&sz=19&hl=en&start=9&zoom=1&tbnid=C2HCEbI0Em1oKM:&tbnh=96&tbnw=108&prev=/images%3Fq%3DPhilip%2BLorca%2BDicorcia%26um%3D1%26hl%3Den%26sa%3DX%26biw%3D800%26bih%3D404%26tbs%3Disch:10%2C552&um=1&itbs=1&iact=hc&vpx=108&vpy=53&dur=127&hovh=225&hovw=225&tx=129&ty=183&ei=roMZTbuKFYH48Aax3YDIBA&oei=V4MZTYvmFYOB8gag6-3VDQ&esq=11&page=3&ndsp=11&ved=1t:429,r:0,s:9&biw=800&bih=404
    http://www.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://krystiandata.files.wordpress.com/2010/05/di_corcia.jpg&imgrefurl=http://krystiandata.wordpress.com/category/uncategorized/&usg=__ujxic8fNIcTCXNM2D1uZ-8ZdA3k=&h=400&w=499&sz=37&hl=en&start=8&zoom=1&tbnid=Ie55zLJZHMP3uM:&tbnh=104&tbnw=130&prev=/images%3Fq%3DPhilip%2BLorca%2BDicorcia%26um%3D1%26hl%3Den%26sa%3DX%26biw%3D800%26bih%3D404%26tbs%3Disch:10%2C5520%2C552&um=1&itbs=1&ei=roMZTbuKFYH48Aax3YDIBA&biw=800&bih=404
    http://www.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://numerof.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2007/10/Philip-Lorca_diCorcia.jpg&imgrefurl=http://u2.interference.com/f287/photographers-union-thread-196567-8.html&usg=__qihqGj9HsPt6B6QdHsfR_G3ezOQ=&h=306&w=480&sz=49&hl=en&start=26&zoom=1&tbnid=aARVVLcT5_RstM:&tbnh=82&tbnw=129&prev=/images%3Fq%3DPhilip%2BLorca%2BDicorcia%26um%3D1%26hl%3Den%26sa%3DX%26biw%3D800%26bih%3D404%26tbs%3Disch:10%2C1179&um=1&itbs=1&ei=1oQZTbD0E8GB8gaK97j_DQ&biw=800&bih=404
    http://www.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://www.notempire.com/images/uploads/Cheerleader115.jpg&imgrefurl=http://www.notcot.org/post/1514/&usg=__RQAdQNYTHQ2CZ4uQ0Tsu3CrTKiM=&h=250&w=250&sz=66&hl=en&start=40&zoom=1&tbnid=dJIgV1KcJfwipM:&tbnh=118&tbnw=118&prev=/images%3Fq%3DPhilip%2BLorca%2BDicorcia%26um%3D1%26hl%3Den%26sa%3DX%26biw%3D800%26bih%3D404%26tbs%3Disch:10%2C18020%2C1802&um=1&itbs=1&iact=hc&vpx=435&vpy=78&dur=2832&hovh=200&hovw=200&tx=101&ty=168&ei=PYUZTbKkH4G88gaD75T0DQ&oei=V4MZTYvmFYOB8gag6-3VDQ&esq=6&page=7&ndsp=8&ved=1t:429,r:6,s:40&biw=800&bih=404
    http://wlrnunderthesun.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/12/elevatorjustright.jpg
     
  47. Like so many topics, that of portraits is probably best not articulated in either/or terms. I don't think it's a good idea to suggest that (good) portraits are either true to the person-subject or not, that the guy/gal behind the camera "outweighs" the subject of the portrait, etc.
    I often purposely choose to work with subjects who intimidate me and who I think wield a whole lot of photographic power. Often, I feel/am outweighed. More often, I feel like a portrait shoot is a dance where the lead changes hands often. These are not descriptions of just the process. They are descriptions of the resulting photos.
    Person-subjects are complex and so portraits are not simply true or close or not. Portraits often lean and don't have to topple these scales. Some are close, some seem close but aren't, some are far but have great truth to them. A good portrait may feel like it brings the soul of the subject close to the viewer. A good portrait, on the other hand, may bring one single aspect of the subject close to the viewer. A good portrait can be held to the surface, be about the surface. A good portrait may look beyond or beneath the masks. A good portrait may simply explore the mask/s a person wears. Masks can have an aspect of genuineness. We genuinely adopt them, intentionally and not intentionally. Some masks are disingenous or deceptive. Deception is real. Portraits can capture and/or express such mask-ish deception. Good portraits themselves can sometimes deceive.
    Viewer desires, expectations, demands, and especially romanticization sometimes stand in counterpoint to viewer openness and willingness and can even prevent the viewer from seeing.
     
  48. In her first response to the comments she read, Julie says:
    I seem to feel, paradoxically, that the better the photographer, the more composed, crafted (better, more effective), the more I feel that it is the photographer's "objective" that I am witnessing, not that of the subject. In other words, I seem to feel that, almost by definition, if the "condition" has been so effectively employed to make a good picture, then the (good) photographer must have hi-jacked the "condtion" that he found in his subject to serve his/her own end. On the other hand, the worse the photograph, the less composed, the less crafted it is, the more likely I am to feel that I am witnessing the "objective" of the subject shown, and not that of the photographer.​
    Julie is concerned that the processes of photography will distort the nature to be found in the subject. This interference prevents the subject from communicating her true nature to the viewer. Julie wants to know the subject as much as possible as if she had met her face to face. She prefers candor. The notion that some truth or meaning lies in wait somewhere in the appearance of the subject before an image is made is powerfully compelling to her.
    I don't agree with her. People are multi-dimensional. Personal encounters are always incomplete in one way or another. There is always some mystery left behind. Even so, a conversation with a living person is in much more satisfying than a picture of someone I have never met and don't know. Photographs are not living things. The mystery to be found in them is even more profound because they cannot verbalize their stories to let you know them better. They almost never tell you the things you would want to know.
    A picture of a girl made by Steve Murray is at the bottom of my screen now. She is a stranger to me. I have seen thousands of pictures of girls in all sorts of poses and contexts, but none of this helps me know the girl in his picture. I see what the photographer decided she should look like, but I don't know who she is. She's just there. Luis' examples show the same thing. Subjects that are just there - sans explanation or story.
    I know of no way to go from subject appearance to personhood without information. In fact, when I look at a picture I don't expect to form some sort of personal relationship with the subject. Even the subjects I would want to know such as the ancestors in the old family album I have are out of my reach. I have come to take this for granted. This in itself explains the context and trust of my remarks to Julie. IMO she is looking for something inside a picture that does not exist.
     
  49. Albert,
    I am getting a lot out of your point of view, but I'm wondering (though I don't really mind) why you keep using me to impersonate your opposition. I have not, anywhere in this thread, used the words "truth" or "reality." I can completely understand how, if this is a subject that you've thought about before (it seems that you have) that you would have jumped to well-worn conclusions about what I was going to say -- but this thread was never about (from my point of view) truth and/or reality. It's about exploring what's in a (good) portrait).
    I feel that the Goffman quotes, in a very handy, useful way, allow me to sort out from a person's presentation, the instrumental. If it turns out that Goffman's presentation is all that we are, that we are entirely instrumental, widgets in the social machinary, I think that would be intersting to know. Goffman's descriptions act, for me, sort of like a stain on a microscopic slide; his descriptions make certain parts clearly visible so I can look at them or ignore them -- and see what is *not* them. What is left over after the instrumental is subtracted.
    I "get" something out of all kinds of responses to what I'm posting as I "finger" my ideas and hold them up to the light in this public forum. As I've already said, I find your position interesting and a useful variant (and I hope you'll keep working that territory).
    For example, where, in his last post, Steve Murray said, "Unlike Julie, I don't feel that the "worst" photographs: less crafted, etc., are more objective," made me revisit my own previous statement about that. (First I'll note that Goffman's "objective" means "goal", not objective as opposed to subjective; it's confusing ...). What I was thinking about and didn't state very clearly was that good pictures aren't accidental; they're crafted -- which necessarily demands a crafter. This reminded me of the arguments of intelligent design -- that the intricate object implies/demands a maker. Steve's post made me wonder, might an intricate photograph, like nature, arrive out of a natural necessity -- out of the "demands" of the concurrent processes, sort of settling into their response to each other? That the job of the photographer is not (just) craft, but a honed and accelerated sensitivity to the "evolution" of the conditions (in this case another person) -- thus making craft subservant to the event? In other words, crafting (intelligent design) is not primary; being honed, sensitized, having an accelerated response to be where/what is needed to make the portrait (evolution) is primary. Or could be. Thus are the workings of this demented mind.
    I'm here handling the idea of portraiture. I put down what I'm thinking. I think about what you all write about your own thinkings. I enjoy myself ... I hope I'm not driving you crazy in the process.
    Phylo, the next to last sentence in your quote really dings me, "We already take this "Other" into account and play on it, put ourselves in its position and observe ourselves from it." There lies the mise en abyme.
    Luis, I'm pondering your examples. I especially like and am taken with and am pondering the second and especially the third ones. There are things going on there that ... work on me.
     
  50. I did PR photos for a hospital in my studio. I tried to make the pictures come alive. I tried to do something like " would you like this doctor enough to let her or him operate on you". Anyway, I got a call from the hospital that they were sending this psychiatrist over for her PR pictures. Of course I had the responsibility to set the scene with main, fill, hair and background lights. I was taught by the late Monte Zucker how to place these lights to produce a warm and soft effect. However, I believe this is just a setting for what I could evoke from the subject in terms of a human expression. As Julie terms it a g-face. Never heard the term before here. Anyway she shows up. I was quite surpristed as she walked through the door. She was stunningly self-assured and statuesque in a bright red suit and exquisitely made-up and coiffed. After introductions she sat down and I gave her a few prompts about positioning her shoulders. I was using a medium format camera with a prism finder so I had a good view of her face. She was helping me by setting her own facial pose. Involuntarily and without my thinking I told her she looked far too damned sensual for what the hospital expected me give them and I took the picture. That I guess was a g-face. I quickly shot a second picture. It turned all I got her wide open mouth, tonsils and teeth as she was convulsed with laughter. That was a g-face I guess. We broke into conversation and I took about thirty g-faces that day as we talked as I walked away from the camera with a remote and took pictures while she ignored the camera and talked to me. She got a lot of extra pictures, the hospital got their two. To my regret I never saw her or met her again. But we got a bunch of expressive images. I set the scene and she provided the soul. I wish I could do that every time but some people take themselves too seriously to give up their g faces. I think.
     
  51. Julie - "That the job of the photographer is not (just) craft, but a honed and accelerated sensitivity to the "evolution" of the conditions (in this case another person) -- thus making craft subservant to the event? In other words, crafting (intelligent design) is not primary; being honed, sensitized, having an accelerated response to be where/what is needed to make the portrait (evolution) is primary. Or could be. Thus are the workings of this demented mind."
    We're talking about portraits as if we were talking about one thing. Perhaps it is, but it's a very broad thing, as Fred alludes to in his post, and in many cases, as in his own, highly individuated, yet open to a wide range of methods, depth, interpretations, and interaction.
    I put up the pictures I did to show that the so-called "Street Face" is hardly a monolithic one, that people are (often subconsciously) running through a series of micro-expressions almost all the time, from the litigious Rabbi to Frank's bored-to-death elevator girl. We are emitting our internal status almost continuously, until we are in a situation where we become conscious of it, as in a formal portrait setting. But even then, the conscious projections are energy-draining, and monotony is hard to sustain, so after a while, the projections begin to fall away, except for the best of actors.
    Let's look at contact sheets of portraits. What are we seeing? Can we see the G-Facial distortions? Evolution? Subjects sustaining masks, or letting them go?
    http://www.edelmangallery.com/exhibitions/2010/proof/proofshow2010.htm
    http://www.profilesinhistory.com/items/epstein-and-schwimer-glamour-photography-auction/marilyn-monroe-contact-sheet-enlargement-portrait-by-bert-stern.html
     
  52. Dick, I love that story -- and it's exemplary of the all-at-the-same-time-ness of personal interactions. Within the frame of G-face-ness there is room for subterfuge ...
    Luis, you ask, "What are we seeing? Can we see the G-Facial distortions? Evolution? Subjects sustaining masks, or letting them go?"
    I can only do that if I get "close."
    I don't think *for me* (for me, for me, for me; I respect everybody else's right to disagree) that street faces are portraits, because, as I said somewhere above, "I think that it's the business of a portrait to "translate" into the visual what is not visual -- and, equally important, to remove or neutralize that which is visible which will be misleading in the absence of the non-visual surround." That supervision, that exercising of scrupulous inclusion/exclusion requires that the portrait-maker, the photographer, knows his subject well enough to make those decisions. Street faces, even ones that I like such as your examples, are receptacles for my own projections. They may or may not have much or anything to do with what that person would be like if I knew him/her well; if I got close in the metaphorical sense.
    And yes, I and everybody else in this thread has noted that "supervision" bounces. It's fractal, it's a hall of mirrors kind of thing.
     
  53. "the so-called 'Street Face' is hardly a monolithic one"
    Yes, Luis. I watch people on the street all the time who are or seem unaware of observers. Many still act as if someone were observing. Many adopt public poses and personnae as a matter of course. Even in private, poses and personnae are often adopted. These can be telling. As you suggest, they're fascinating to read. Many people going about their business seem oblivious and "natural" even if not particularly engaged and that can bring me close to them on a certain level. I also think those "conscious projections" we may find in formal portrait situations can be genuine and can add great depth and closeness to a portrait (or they can be merely stilted and stultifying, even obfuscating). Sometimes even stilted works well in the right portrait. Conscious projections are no less a part of life and intimacy than unconscious candor.
    Yes, good portraits are not born from having a particular aspect or element or approach or meaning or closeness or farness or animal magnetism or not. They are born of a great variety of working combinations (with exponential possibilities) of a whole lot of different stuff.
     
  54. [Just read Julie's simultaneous post.]
    A good portrait doesn't need to (though it can) translate the non-visual into the visual. It can translate the visual (even the surface or superficially visual) into the significant. It can also simply and directly show someone's face . . .
     
  55. Most successful faces or portraits I have observed rarely show the person as the person, but rather the person acting as a tool for some other communication, whether intended by the subject and/or the photographer, or not. This is further enhanced or modified by the viewer's pre-conditions or spirit, in one case if the subject is personally known or has the stamped trademark of his or her established fame, and in another case by what the viewer really wants to observe in an image. Profound non-visual values, are rarely communicated. If they are, and other than the most superficial in nature (such as the visual evidence of emotions), I would enjoy seeing examples. Not sure if Barthe saw it as such in his reservations about portraiture, but he would likely agree that it is a theatrical and not a natural event in most cases.
     
  56. Arthur, it's great that you bring up the issues of subjects of photos as tools and (the flip side) as ends in themselves. Most subjects participate in both and many photographers are aware of that.
    Talk of the communication of "value" adds more complication. Value aside, the extent to which something non-visual translates to the visual has little if anything to do with a photo being a portrait. Such a consideration would apply to any type of photo. Whether the subject of a photo (be it a human, a house, a rock, a vase) is a tool or an end depends upon the photographer, the being-at-the-time of the subject, and the viewer.
    The "person as the person" is a murky idea. There's really no such thing. Such person-ness can't be isolated, honed, or extrapolated. When a person is wearing a mask, when a person is acting, when a person is in the throes of heart-rending emotion, the person is a person. A sleeping person is a person, a crying person is a person, a person playing with her kids is a person, a person looking mysterious is a person, a person deep in thought is a person, a person scratching himself is a person, a person mugging for the camera is a person. Persons aren't made persons by candor or any other single way of being or being seen.
     
  57. Arthur said:
    Most successful faces or portraits I have observed rarely show the person as the person, but rather the person acting as a tool for some other communication, whether intended by the subject and/or the photographer, or not.​
    Yes, I agree that a portrait is more about communication. A single picture cannot tell us who a person is, but it can show the some of the subtle and fascinating elements of human facial communication with which the viewer can resonate. When I try to do a portrait, I try to avoid the obvious cliched smiling posed expressions, and I wait for something less consciously intentional and more part of the flow of the moment--hopefully a more natural expression/communication of that moment. Its always an ultimate mystery, but the less intentionally/consciously posed communication is to me, hopefully, more interesting and challenging to the viewer than the posed and cliched expression. Maybe because it makes us wonder what this person is thinking or trying to communicate. I don't know. That's just my approach.
     
  58. It's fascinating how dismissive and derisive so many photographers are of intention and consciousness of the subjects (and/or poses) of portraits. Less intention and consciousness is not necessarily a way to avoid clichés or uninteresting portraits. There are ways to engage a subject's intentions and conscious (even self conscious) manner and create significant portraits.
    Theater: Exaggeration and rehearsal are important to the creation of significant performances, not at all clichéd. The same can be true of good portraits. Many of the best portraits are such a performance.
    "Natural" is sometimes overrated. Artificiality and plasticity are often the stuff of great photographs, great theater, and great art.
     
  59. Fred and Steve, your qualifications are valuable concerning the challenge and issues of portraiture. I guess that what I was really trying to say was that many portraits are indeed theatre and the subjects and photographer very much involved in that conscious or unconscious adventure. If any "face" effuses from that, it is a conditioned one and does not necessarily have any relation to the "essence" of the subject.
    I think that if this is true (it is of course very much debatable; I can claim only to have minor experience with portraiture, although the subject intrigues me greatly as a critic) then it is perhaps compatible with a belief that the immaterial non-visual aspects of the subject's being and thoughts are masked by the form of the (theatrical) presentation.
     
  60. Arthur, you seem to have substituted "essence" for "person as person." Neither one has much meaning for me. What is this "essence" of a person that is supposedly unconditioned? If there were to be an essence, it would include masks and conditioning. We wouldn't be persons without those. "Essence" or "person as person" still sounds to me like something a lot of people think is present only in unguarded or unconditioned moments. That doesn't square with my own experience, especially photographically. It is often by experiencing the way people guard themselves and present themselves that I feel I genuinely get to know them.
     
  61. Is the quality of character of an actor "at rest" (not in his role of acting) any less interesting than that in which he portrays himself or another in a conditioned role? Fred, I think both have their value, but that of the unprompted man potentially more revealing (although perhaps more difficult to discern and capture).
     
  62. No, I don't think the so-called unprompted man is more revealing. And I'm not so sure any state of a person is unprompted. How we are and how we appear is usually prompted by something, including environment.
    Were I shooting Sir Laurence Olivier, I'd be equally challenged to shoot him at home in his slippers (if I felt it would make a good photo) or on a stage in Hamlet's dress. I don't think one would be potentially revealing of the man Olivier more than the other. If I strip Olivier of his acting do I not strip him of some of this so-called "essence"?
    Photos are incomplete. As are all other views.
     
  63. Julie - "I think that it's the business of a portrait to "translate" into the visual what is not visual -- and, equally important, to remove or neutralize that which is visible which will be misleading in the absence of the non-visual surround."
    I'm not so sure that the focus of the portrait is to translate the non-visual into the visual. It can be a focus, by itself, or one of many -- or not at all. I would also rephrase that to read something like "encode the non-visual into the visual". It is the viewer who has to get close/ do the decoding providing there's any to be done.
    I'm seeing portrait G-Face as a kind of ratio between two entities, one which has a given value at any moment, but is fluctuating constantly, consciously and subconsciously between and within those involved. An astute photographer can affect that ratio consciously, and to his own ends (or representational ones) or be poised to take advantage of micro-expressions, something few studio photographers do, but is frequently seen with more informal photographers and those with a street background.
    I'm with Fred on the idea that the so-called unprompted man is not particularly more revealing. I don't think he is, or isn't, for that matter. The number of variables involved is too great to discern which are significant or insignificant. What we see (here and elsewhere) is that many (though not all) portraitists suffer and benefit from ideological lock-in and superstitious behavior.
     
  64. Agreed, Luis (about the non-visual into visual). What I'm trying to get at is that there needs to be a shepherd -- who has some idea of what that person is about, and who then sees to it that what needs to get into a portrait does get into the portrait, and sees to it that what needs to be left out does get left out. If no non-visual is necessary, then none need be translated -- or encoded. I think we understand each other. (No, I'm not accusing you of agreeing with me; god forbid!)
    An experiment, if you've got a few idle minutes. Pretend that you know the below description and that you agree with it (suspend your natural disbelief just for a minute). Knowing the given description, think for a minute about how you might go about making a portrait of the described person. Would you ignore the knowledge found in these descriptions? Or, if you hope to convey it in a photographic portrait, how might you do so?
    Description #1: "THE books published by Purushottama Lal from his house in Lake Gardens, Calcutta (now Kolkata), from 1958 onwards were like no others in the world. Each slim volume of Writers Workshop poetry, fiction or drama—they tended to be slim—was bound in bright handloom cloth, and hand-stitched so tightly that it would open with a creak. The title pages and chapter-heads featured the swirling calligraphy of Professor Lal himself, done with a Sheaffer fountain pen. The type, at least until this century, was handset in a mosquito-infested shed by workers who did not know the language but could recognise the letters; and the galleys were printed on a flatbed treadle machine in the next-door garage of P.K. Aditya, who had kindly moved his car out for the purpose. In this form appeared the early works of Vikram Seth, Dilip Hiro and Anita Desai."
    That, and the second one below are from obituaries in The Economist. You can see the picture that they used for P. Lal here [ link ] -- and read more of the obituary if you like.
    Description #2: "COURAGE rarely failed Bärbel Bohley. Others quailed at the hands of the East German secret police, the Stasi. Frail but steely, she mocked them: an eye for the absurd, she said, helped to keep her mental distance from those "brutal, cold, murderous, contemptuous people". "I will get out of here; you won’t," she once snapped at an interrogator."
    See the picture that The Economist used here [ link ].
     
  65. What if some portraits are of what a person looks like rather than someone's idea about that person? Photographers don't always know many things about the people they shoot, or care about such things. Sometimes, things don't need to get into portraits. Sometimes, portraits are photos out of which things come.
     
  66. Fred, I cannot agree about the higher significance of a portrait of Olivier as Olivier as he manifested in one of his roles (as perhaps his most famous one in Shakespeare's play Othello), rather than a hypothetical one in bedroom slippers. Or any similar comparison of actors or others. Whereas acting and the way he acted was a major element in his career, the man or the "face" underlying the man may well remain invisible to the portrait, although it can come out in novels, poetry or other expressive forms. What we see is what we are shown by the photographer or the event or too consciously by the subject. Conversely, does a portrait of a serial killer prior to his or her acts reveal much about who they really are? Hardly, unless hindsight can create some visual linkage that suits the purpose.
    However, I do like the final sentence of your recentmost post. Portraits often show not the person but something else, and that something else, whether intentionally abstracted by the photographer or not, can be of interest.
     
  67. Fred, "what a person looks like" is not static, but to me is a complex multi-layered composite in our memory based on multiple images connected to to various events, emotions, etc. And sometimes, like you say, the photographer doesn't even know much about the person. I do like the idea the "portraits are photos out of which things come." Nicely put! Julie, the photo of P. Lal is a nifty coincidence which left me chuckling: he is holding a book with the Mona Lisa on the cover. I was just thinking about the Mona Lisa as one of our iconic portraits and what it is about her that moves people. In both these individuals I probably would have done a portrait catching them gazing and responding to me/the camera in hopes of capturing a bit of mystery, like the Mona Lisa!
     
  68. Arthur, what we read in a novel or a poem is no more or less the person we are reading about than is a portrait. They are different types of presentations/communications, novels often having fuller narratives. In those vehicles, too, what we read, though more detailed, is what the author shows us.
    What a still portrait often has going for it is the instantaneous distillation it may accomplish.
    Thanks, Steve. And, yes, I agree that "what a person looks like" is not static. But it can be very photographic.
     
  69. By the way, Arthur, I specifically did NOT say that one kind of portrait of Olivier would have higher significance. I said that each could have great significance (or not):
    "I don't think one would be potentially revealing of the man Olivier more than the other."
     
  70. The novel and poem have more potential than a portrait to communicate. Some portraits can communicate more than some less revealing novels or poems, but that is only because the extent of expressiveness of the novel or poem is greater than the portrait (the communicative tools are not merely visual ones), and at their least, the poem or novel overlap with the portrait at lower levels of communication.
    Fred, you are right to repeat your statement. I do think that the portrait of the actor not acting is potentially more revealing, because he is simply not acting and potentially showing something of himself rather than a prescibed text inspired visualisation or movement. True, no two actors will enact the same role identically, which does give some insight into the actor.
     
  71. A novel and poem communicate differently from a portrait. The novel and poem do not have more potential to communicate. Portraits (and novels and poems) do a lot more than conveying facts. Communication and, as importantly, expression, is not a matter of quantity of detail.
    "showing something of himself"
    You seem to be assuming that when Olivier is acting he is not being himself. Just who is it that is playing the character of Othello? Now, when watching Othello, one may want to suspend belief that it is Olivier up there. I often do that with actors when they're acting. But when looking at a photo of Olivier acting, I am not locked into that kind of suspension of belief (though I could be). The photo of Olivier acting can use Olivier's Othello-ness to actually transcend Olivier's Othello-ness and take me right back to Olivier. Just as the photograph is not the photographed, the photograph of the actor acting is not just the actor acting. It can be much, much more.
     
  72. BTW:
    My bringing up the actor (Olivier) has a greater purpose than talking about photographing actors. A photograph of an obviously posed person, even an exaggeratedly posed person, is not the same thing as the posed person. It is a photograph. Looking at a photograph with such intentional and obvious poses is different from looking at a person posing. Just as the photograph of Olivier as Othello can transcend Othello-ness and bring us Olivier the photo of the obviously posed Mr. X, any old Mr. X, can utilize that obvious pose to make a photograph very much about Mr. X., especially in the hands of a good photographer.
     
  73. Julie - "What I'm trying to get at is that there needs to be a shepherd -- who has some idea of what that person is about, and who then sees to it that what needs to get into a portrait does get into the portrait, and sees to it that what needs to be left out does get left out. If no non-visual is necessary, then none need be translated -- or encoded."
    The 'shepherd'/photographer (Baaah Baaah subject = sheep? Aaack.) does not necessarily have to have an idea of what that person is about. S/he can fictionalize what that person is about, or seize on the G-Face boundary and go from there. With the examples Julie provided from The Economist (conservative corporate rag!), I would have guessed closer to the mark with the writer, though I would have pegged him as a mystic, and the East German woman as the writer! Of course, those portraits are accompanied (or corraled) by voluminous captions (the articles) that quickly collapse the range of potential interpretations.
    In making a portrait of these people I would keep in mind the context in which they would be shown: The Economist. They're not just portraits, but also illustrations for an article. Since there's no known budget, or time limitations (these appear to have little of either), they would have been very journalistic, I imagine. The pose and lighting of the Indian writer reminds me a little of Bourke-White's Ghandi at the loom picture.
    Julie - "I think we understand each other. (No, I'm not accusing you of agreeing with me; god forbid!)"
    I think we do. Agree? Hah!
    Fred - "What if some portraits are of what a person looks like rather than someone's idea about that person? Photographers don't always know many things about the people they shoot, or care about such things. Sometimes, things don't need to get into portraits. Sometimes, portraits are photos out of which things come."
    What gets to the sensor is what the light conveys. Photographers are almost never a null cipher, and part of their being and biases enter the picture (reflectively), whether there is a need for them to get into the portrait or not. Plus the subject is projecting (at least at the beginning) what they want the picture to show. We're back to the energized field/boundary of the G-Face.
    I know what Fred meant, yet any photograph looked at long enough, in front of the right viewer can be a photo out of which things come.
    I think I might have done a tight head shot of Ms. Bohbel against a black/dark background, or photographed her inside one of the spaces where she was held/questioned, but not tortured -- if she agreed, of course, to give an idea of the crucible this woman bravely underwent.
     
  74. Thanks Luis.
     
  75. I have just been looking at a few older issues of Black + White Photography, and in particular at the portraits of British photographer Jane Bown (Jan.2010 issue) and two from a less well known but excellent portraitist, a reader Bruce Chatterton (Nov. 2010). They are primarily of famous persons and are to my mind exceedingly well made images. Except for the portrait of Henri-Cartier Bresson holding his Leica or that of Sinead O'Connor with the cigarette in his ear, the others (including Bertrand Russell) communicate to us without other symbols and do transfer something of the person, which we interpret in large part from our prior knowledge or experience of that person and their already established identity. However, little else about the person seems to come from these otherwise excellent images of remarkable human beings, at least apart from that already connected to our prior knowledge of them. We may well think about our memories of seeing and hearing them on the stage or in interview, where they have communicated much of themselves, as well as the roles they played.
    But taken as instantaneous images, they are limited as vehicules for the "face" of the person. That has been usually pre-determined by our former experience of them.
    So, if you accept that portraits are restrained from communicating much about the person pictured, other than an expressed emotion or what we already know about the subject, just what do portraits offer us? I would say that they are primarily just physical representations of the face and an instantaneous expression that might suggest some state of being, or consequence of some event. Communication of a subject's immaterial thoughts? Rarely. Catalysts of our own? Why not?
    Also, I think, we are just fascinated by portraits, mainly because we are fascinated with our own being. We take from the portrait what we want and we build upon that in our own imagination. I may think that I am a very smart fellow (in some things...), so when I look at the sympathetic profile of Bertrand Russel, a man endowed with an intelligence I may only dream about, and see an individual with gentle but intelligent eyes, a weak chin, assymetric phrenology, noble expression (the mouth is clearly as revealing as the eyes) and large nose, I think, well, maybe I share some traits in common with this outstanding man, and am perhaps encouraged by the fact that his less than idealisable physical presence has had little to do with his interior "face" or essence (sorry, I find not a non-conflictual term for this) or value. I am led to ponder some of the thoughts of this man that I have encountered in past readings.
    In the case of a portrait of an unknown person, the fascination is still there, simply because I am another human looking at the perhaps intriguing physical presence of another. I may recognise some context of the time or place of the portrait, but I ultimately take from it what I want, which is some sort of extrapolation of what I see, but an extrapolation that is primarily my own and only minimally related to the subject of the portrait.
    The use of symbols add a little to a portrait, but they can end up being too deterministic ("this is what you must see and think about..."). However, given the limited ability to convey very much through an instantaneous image (and I heartily disagree, Fred, about portraiture offering as much as the effective written word), they can be useful.
    I think that we might profit by seeing more of what I might call bi-portraits, or dual portraits, where the main subject interacts with another person, thereby permitting to visualise some interaction of the main subject and the other. The simple fascination or interest in the physical presence that mainly operates when we see the portrait of some unknown person, might then be given wings by the action or issue implied in a bi-portrait image. A photograph of a muscular father tenderly holding his small baby in his large hands is perhaps too cliché and limited, but the possibility of describing human-human interaction can open up the viewer's mind to the interiorness of the main subject.
    Just a few personal takes on the subject, which I hope may lead to other ideas, similar or not.
     
  76. "and I heartily disagree, Fred, about portraiture offering as much as the effective written word"
    Here's what I actually said: "Portraits (and novels and poems) do a lot more than conveying facts. Communication and, as importantly, expression, is not a matter of quantity of detail."
    My concern is not with quantity or one thing giving me "as much" as another. When I look at a portrait, I am not looking for a biography. I don't have such expectations going in. The visual is not the verbal. Nothing I've ever read about Dietrich gives me what I see when I look at photos of her. It's not about "as much".
    I do know that when I look at photos of my grandparents (long departed), I feel their presence quite intimately. But I knew them. When I look at photos of those I don't know, I also feel a kind of presence and intimacy that is both grounded and transcendent. Grounded because (as Luis pointed out in another thread) a photo is fixed in a significant way. Transcendent because the humanity of a good portrait of an unknown person goes beyond the individual even while bringing me in touch with at least a significant aspect of that individual.
    Just like in other genres of photography, the photograph is not the thing (or person) photographed. (Though, in all genres, it can be close.) At the same time, portraits can add to our experience and even our understanding of the subject in ways that are unique. They can also be total fabrications.
     
  77. Arthur - "...Sinead O'Connor with the cigarette in his ear..."
    O'Connor is a woman.
    Arthur - "However, little else about the person seems to come from these otherwise excellent images of remarkable human beings, at least apart from that already connected to our prior knowledge of them."
    Photographs do not convey narratives. Compared to a medium that does, they end up looking like impoverished cousins. Portraits do tell us other things about those depicted, the trait and state aspects of the subject, the photographer, time, technology and culture in which they were made. In Bown's photograph of Mick Jagger, for example, she brought out an intimate expression that is not frequently encountered in other pictures of him. A momentary expression that would be almost impossible to describe outside of photography, or unless done from a photograph.
    Arthur - "they are limited as vehicules for the "face" of the person. That has been usually pre-determined by our former experience of them."
    Yes and no. When it comes to people we do not know, either personally, or from media presence, we note a lot of things that we also notice but are displaced & take a back seat to the implicit captioning we carry about celebs (Note Arthur's description of the Russell portrait).
    Humans are constantly reading the faces of other humans (and animals, too) for a variety of reasons, many of which are connected to survival, and we can tell a lot from it.
    AP - "Also, I think, we are just fascinated by portraits, mainly because we are fascinated with our own being."
    This is kinda mechanistic, though probably true for most people. I am equally fascinated by a lot of landscapes, microphotography, sociological photographs, still lifes, etc., and I am none of the above.
    AP -"The use of symbols add a little to a portrait, but they can end up being too deterministic"
    If used sententiously.
    The interaction between photographer and subject opens up floodgates of information about both, though, again, it is not in narrative form.
     
  78. Luis: "(the subject) is a woman"
    .....And it may not be a tobacco cigarette. Interpretation. The latter is fascinating in itself (and what it also says about we the viewers; Incidentally, the photo was a shot from above the head, showing the subjects shaved scalp).
    In the same light, Bown's atypical expression of Mick Jagger (which I admit I haven't seen) may be no more revealing of him than the more usual ones. No more than how I did on a specific mid term 5th grade English exam can give anyone an overall perception of me as a primary school pupil. An instantaneous snippet.
    Luis: "many of which are connected to survival".
    Possibly, but not usually as a primary reaction of the conscious mind and thoughts.
    Luis: "This is sort of mechanistic"
    I'm not sure I understand what you are saying here. Action and reaction occurs in much human interaction.
    Luis: "I am equally fascinated by a lot of landscapes".
    Of course, but why not? So are many of us. I don't think I meant to say that we are uniquely fascinated by human faces and nothing else. I believe that fascination is perhaps our primary reaction to portraits and not because they propose some sort of narrative or are revealing something to us in a more sublime way (other than our catalysed thoughts, which may have little to do with an unknown subject, per se).
    Luis, I agree that interaction between photographer and subject or subject matter can be revealing and open up information. It occurs in a lot of art and photography and is often more revealing in non-portrait work where the photographer has more freedom to mold what he sees to his intentions or values, and also without the necessity of narrative.
     

  79. AP - "In the same light, Bown's atypical expression of Mick Jagger (which I admit I haven't seen) may be no more revealing of him than the more usual ones."
    To you and many others, but perhaps not so to everyone.
    AP - "I don't think I meant to say that we are uniquely fascinated by human faces and nothing else."
    Nor did I take it that way. Not at all. It was the implied causality that we are fascinated with portraits because we are also human. I happen to be entranced (or in your wording, 'fascinated') by a lot of Weston's pictures of the Rocks at Weston Beach, but I am not a rock, nor do I want to be one, have sex with one, own it, etc. That is what I meant by a mechanistic interpretation of the attraction of portraits: A blunt equation. I am not denying your point, only saying that I feel there is a wide(r) range of human reactions and attractions to almost anything, including the portrait. That is all. I happen to not fit your fascination-because-we're-all-humans idea.
     
  80. I accept your point (last sentence), Luis. We all have differing responses. I also agree with you that fascination ("entrancement" is too strong a qualifier for me) is not the sole mode of interaction of a viewer with portrait photographs.
     
  81. I'm not sure my face is worth saving! (But it's occasionally worth shaving!)
     
  82. Julie, it's interesting to me that you picked Goffman as a point of reference. His perspective on social interactions as a driving force in the creation and maintenance of culture (and personality - both individually and collectively defined) is an important contribution to sociological and anthropological theories. Without this appreciation for the social rules and games we all play - and how they work to maintain our sense of self and our position - some theories of culture and society were not dynamic at all.
    Regarding face or saving face and how it plays in photography... I think performance is key whether it is consciously realized or not. I mean by this that the photographer is also involved in this performance. Because to capture an image is by its very act meant to have an audience outside that moment in time and place. And so there is a purpose for it - even if not entirely in awareness and if only to manipulate or enhance for one's own enjoyment.
    Then add to this the performance of the subject being photographed (if there are humans or animals conscious of at some level being photographed and their reactions). So this to me is absolutely a fundamental reality to photography- that is involved performance. Whether that performance has a goal - or the goal is shared or towards some end like preserving a shared definition of status, beauty, outrage or whatever - is what is so varied.
    So I don't think saving face (with any particular assumption about what that means from a particular social or cultural status) is inherent to photographs or photography. It depends on the awareness and purpose of the participants and even then- they can be at cross-purposes (the subject may think he /she is saving face only to find the photographer has another goal or awareness of it, etc.).
     
  83. Oh, oh, oh .... yes, no and maybe ... dern. Ann, I wish you'd been here when this thread was going on ... I'm going to move to your new thread and work on the idea of "performance." Welcome to this forum!
     

Share This Page

1111