"There are only two styles of portrait painting: the serious and the smirk." – Charles Dickens
Who can get enough of personal imagery, especially if it’s of you? Rembrandt painted nearly eighty self-portraits; Frida Kahlo, fifty or so. Online, some folks claim to have hundreds, if not thousands, of photographs of themselves. I myself have rather fewer, alas, none of them any good. But given so particular an affinity for one’s own physiognomy, it seems ironic, indeed lamentable, that the latter be treated as a peculiar possession so reluctantly parted with as to begrudge others even the occasional copy. Most folks, it turns out, are not enthusiastic about having their picture taken, especially impromptu or candid ones. More about this in a bit.
|Under African sun, 1976|
During the Renaissance, such attitudes began to change dramatically – the personal likeness or portrait eventually becoming fashionable not just amongst royalty but the middle classes as well. Portraiture of one sort or another, especially photography beginning about the middle of the 19th century, has been more or less on the rise ever since.
"You brought me a potato, and you expect a peach!"– Gilbert Stuart (to a client dissatisfied with his wife's portrait)
|A “decisive moment” of sorts. New York City, 1974|
Fingers do the walking – and the talking. Rye, New
Fashion model on a photo shoot focuses
on the other photographer. Piazza di
Spagna, Rome, 2002
In reality, the famous expression has become a shibboleth of candid photography that makes much better sense put in context. Like most serious practitioners of the genre, Cartier-Bresson would “work the scene” (he was also a photojournalist), taking multiple shots of a situation, then choosing the best one(s) from a contact sheet. Yet every exposure in the collection, even if discarded (a contact sheet for “Seville, Spain, 1933” is extant, but most were destroyed after vetting), would still represent a decisive moment in its own right. The famous photographer would sometimes shoot an entire roll of film to get a single publishable (in his judgement) image – it’s selection a sort of definitive moment for the collection as a whole.
Moroccan guide Omar Kyam gamely posed for
pictures but strongly warned against photographing
“any kind of police.” Marrakech, 1976
As for the “decisive moment,” surely it’s an ideal for which one strives.
“The world is going to pieces and people like Adams and Weston are photographing rocks!”– Henri Cartier-Bresson
|Too agitated to notice photographers, a groundskeeper berates a pet owner for encouraging his dog to |
cool off in the Venus fountain. Gardens of the Villa Borghese, Rome, 2017
|Filming policemen from the rear or with their eyes shut reduces the risk. Left: minor traffic accident, |
Hanoi, Vietnam, 2009; Right: lunch break, Santa Lucia de Tirajana, Gran Canaria, 1976
|Capturing this corpulent pair with a telephoto |
lens kept the photographer well out of notice.
Montego Bay, Jamaica, 1977
|A concerned policeman fends off tourists from snoozing pooches. Puerto Montt, Chile, 2014|
|Having compelled a photo to assure the camera |
was not an infernal device, an airport security official
flashes a smile. Munich International Airport, 1994
|Photo fatigue. Three Rivers Campground, Lincoln National Forest, New Mexico, 1997|
|Defeating the photographer’s stratagem, a street vendor blocks the camera. |
Varanasi, India, 1999
|Too stoned to care, an enormous Indian bull elephant stares impassively. A |
mahout had foolishly tormented the intelligent creature while he was in musth,
whereupon the bull seized the man and taking him to the nearby Narayani River,
drowned him. Remorseful, the elephant then returned the lifeless body to camp and
laid it on the ground. Thereafter, handlers took care to feed the big male industrial
doses of Valium whenever he went into musth and confine him to quarters. Tiger Tops,
Royal Chitwan National Park, Nepal, 1999
|With almost Tantric detachment, a Himalayan domestic yak strikes a placid pose. Outskirts of Thimphu, |