[11Nov20 I&P p.65] We turn now to more collaborative portraiture and start with the fine example of Harry Callahan, his wife Eleanor (often naked) and occasionally his daughter Barbara. Attentive readers will recall that two of Callahan's images were discussed during the Preamble in exercise N3.The cmat shows Eleanor, Lake Michigan, 1949, fig. A1.
I have always been drawn by the sparse simplicity of Callahan's work often featuring a single subject, that frequently (until the late 1950s) being his muse and wife Eleanor (perhaps a parallel with Stieglitz and O’Keeffe, or Weston and Modotti).
A teacher in Chicago and then Rhode Island both for more than a decade, Callahan said of his work, "It’s the subject matter that counts. I’m interested in revealing the subject in a new way to intensify it. A photo is able to capture a moment that people can’t always see" quoted by Caponigro (2014).
Philip Kennicott, writing in the Washington Post (2011) describes Callahan as, 'a master of the cool, arresting, formal print, a lifelong innovator and a restless perfectionist' … 'a master of the cool, he is never cold. There is humor throughout his work'.
[19Nov p.66] Julian Germain’s project entitled For Every Minute You Are Angry, You Lose Sixty Seconds of Happiness documented the daily routines of Charles Snelling (fig. A1), an 'elderly gentleman' he befriended (Theresa Malone, 2013). The cmat refers to a 'quiet and contemplative existence … a really moving story about a unique individual with a particular way of doing things (I&P p.66). In the Malone interview for the Guardian, Germain describes how, 'I didn't see my photos of Charlie as a project – it didn't have a deadline and there was no grand plan for it. Sometimes I didn't even take any photographs. We'd spend the afternoon together … Charlie died in 2000 [8 years after they first met] and it wasn't until a couple of years later that I started really examining the pictures and thinking about what they might convey'.
In contrast to Callahan's lifetime's work with his family and Germain’s leisurely non-project, we also have Daniel Meadows and Martin Parr (see previous link), contemporaries at Manchester Poly, and their more immediate June Street series, 1972 (fig. A2), featuring families similarly posed in their arrestingly-similar front rooms in the eponymous Salford street. Given the mirror symmetry of some of the rooms there must have been a temptation to reverse some of the negatives when printing (see the Hyman Collection). Meadow's Photobus is praised.
[date I&P p.67] One subject in five different locations.
[21Nov I&P p.68] We examine the notion of the 'studio' and recall Penn's corner sets (figs. B1 and B2). These were sets within a studio. Not mentioned in the cmat, Avedon is also worth considering for his travels across the US with a white background in search of portraits fig. B3).
More recently, we have Clare Strand's 2002–03 series Gone Astray. We are referred to an interview of Strand did by Ana Finel Honigman, but the link is dead. Strand describes herself as 'a British conceptual artist, working with and against the photographic medium' (Strand, n.d.). In her web page on the project, she states that the idea derives from the C19th practice of using painted backdrops, sometimes bucolic, for studio portrait photographs. The subjects were photographed before the same flat, and 'carefully styled and propped to assume an urban generic type'.
Two examples are shown in the cmat, fig. B4. These, then, are actors portraying stereotypical non-rural characters in front of a clearly bogus rural background. The two shown are a rebellious youth, possibly a football supporter on a non-match day given the absence of regalia, and a downtrodden, strangely-dressed individual with poor posture. Strand writes of ' ‘distressed, damaged and dishevelled subjects’ (I&P p.69).
An anonymous review of the series in Fotograf (also undated in the excerpt available without a subscription) refers to Strand's 'obsession with examining and finding the border between the possible and the impossible' and in Gone Astray, 'a cast of actors in an urban play … the glitz covering the dirt of big cities, the dark corners next to the luxurious facades'.
[date] One location or background, five different subjects
[23Nov] Photographing subjects in a collaborative manner can lead to an image with greater contextual depth and veracity, although this is arguably at the expense of some form of truth. Photographing subjects costumed to portray other character types is not, in my view, portraiture - this raises the question at what point does artifice pass my subjective portraiture threshold - is a naked Mrs Callahan not a portrait because she would routinely be clothed, while Sally Mann's kids are because children will play naked more naturally?
Part 2 Upsum
My photographs don't go below the surface. They don't go below anything. They're readings of what's on the surface. Avedon
People play roles, strike poses and effect personas continually in everyday life and so an impromptu portrait can only ever depict the individual's current pose. For an 'aware portrait' it is likely that the subject will intentionally arrange themselves, but this persona is no less (and no more) true or false than any other visual persona.