Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Art & Photographic Portraits

What is art? Art is subjective, and not everyone agrees on what makes something art. Something like beauty is in the eyes of the beholder.

A client told me not long ago that while she had no problem hanging large art pieces on her walls, she just couldn't see a large family photo on her wall...She didn't want to look at herself "that big!"


I know my ears turned red because I could feel the heat coming off them! I stood there in stunned silence for a minute, then said, "So, you don't consider portraits as art?!" I felt like I had been slapped in the face!

You see, I have dedicated myself to creating the most beautiful family portraits possible for the last 16 years. To me, and to the vast majority of my clients, (I must say all my real clients), a fine family portrait truly is an art piece. A family art treasure! And I would venture to say that even the client I referenced at the beginning here would, in the case of a fire, grab her family portrait and run for safety....but I could be's happened before.

Since I was a very young boy and to now, I have always taken my inspiration for my work from the Old Masters of painting. Their ability to show personalities and emotion in their images has always drawn me in. Most of their works were portraits of friends and patrons. Yes, portraits. Are they art? Absolutely! Very few would disagree.

Back when the "Old Masters" were contemporaries, film hadn't been invented, so there was no photography as we know it. And as I said, the majority of their works were portraits commissioned by their patrons, or inspired by their friends. Certainly landscapes and city scenes, slices of life as it was then were also subjects for paintings. Very much as it is today with painters and photographers alike.

For the most part, the job of creating portraits has been turned over to photographers, and those who specialize in portraiture have received the baton from the portrait painters of old. The art of portraiture largely remains the same. Only the tools have changed. The ability to 'see' and to compose remain the cornerstone of the portraitist's art, along with the ability to draw out the personality of the subject and transfer the vision to print media.

There are many parallels between the painting masters portraits of old and today's photographic portrait artists. Not the least being that we are commissioned to create the portraits in the first place, and it is our passion and livelihood. Depicting personality, emotion and moment has always been about lighting and featuring certain aspects of the subject whether captured in oils or on film or by digital sensor. And today's portraits will be the future's historical record of our contemporary life.

So, are photographic portraits art? I'd like to hear your thoughts!

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