Sunday, 14 August 2011

Book Review – Portrait:Theory Ed. Kelly Wise

Came across this book – which appears to be out of print - on Amazon while searching for books on Portrait Theory. Perhaps I was fooled by the word ‘theory’ in the title, and the promise of the 8 photographers featured talking about their work. The latter bit was correct but most of the essays cover technical aspects of the work rather than the theory or ideas behind them or what they were hoping to portray. On the plus side, the back story behind many of the images is quite interesting to read, and there are plenty of nuggets of photographic wisdom tucked away to think about.

Setting that aside this is an excellent collection of portraits by a group of photographers who, with the exception of Robert Mapplethorpe, I had not previously heard of.

Particular favourites included Evelyn Hofer – for the jet blacks she gets in her prints (examples here), and the way she captures light on peoples faces, and Robert Mapplethorpe for much the same reason.

On the flip side, I thought the low contrast murkiness of the platinum-palladium prints from Jan Groover spoiled otherwise excellent characterisations.

Irrespective of the techniques, I also found many of the photos of interest from a purely historical value – Lotte Jacobi’s wonderfully undersold ‘Albert Einstein, Physicist’ and ‘Alfred Stieglitz, Photographer’ for example. She clearly had access to the glitterati because her portfolio in the book also includes Eleanor Roosevelt and Paul Robeson.

So not quite what I expected, but a very enjoyable read and look, and one that I keep going back to

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