Portrait photography: A contemporary portal to artistic truth. By Alan Oakes
Self Portrait, Annie Leibovitz
You don’t have to sort of enhance reality.
There is nothing stranger and more revealing than truth
through a portrait.
- Annie Leibovitz
Robert Alan Oakes
Art 480i Seminar
The search for visual truth is a continuing quest. A pondering of ontology pushes our efforts and abilities as a homogenous culture to question and challenge identity within the visual boundaries of technology and time. Building upon the visual codes and methods of the past, the relatively young medium of photography conveys the surrounding subjects in true aesthetic representation. We surround ourselves with images of the past wistfully longing for what some consider a better, more civilized time. Photographs-- especially those of people, of distant landscapes and faraway cities, of the disintegrating past-- are inspirations to reverie. The sense of the unattainable that can be evoked by a photograph feeds directly into the erotic feelings of those for whom desirability is enhanced by distance or a longing to reactivate a past moment, feeling or experience. The lover’s photograph hidden in a married man’s wallet, the poster photograph of a pop star pinned up over an teenager’s bed, the coin in your pocket with the imprint of Lincoln’s face, the snapshots of a hairdresser’s child taped to their beauty mirror- all such talismanic uses of photographs express a feeling both sentimental and implicitly magical: they are attempts to contact, transcend or lay claim to another reality. Portrait photography adheres to long existing functions, however new and instantaneous the medium may be. In order to understand photography, more specifically- portraiture, we must deconstruct the meaning and approach within the modern context. Just as any Fine Art, photography lives an intellectual and visual existence- an overlap represented within the professional and intimate relationship of Photographer Annie Leibovitz and write Susan Sontag. It is my goal to synthesize our seminar’s discoveries, and approach the art of portrait photography just as we have religious art. Throughout the semester we have strived to find meaning within the art we so observe. We tamper with evidence provided by educated theologians and illiterate peasants, looking at all perceptions and subsequent interactions with icons of religious subject. My goal is to investigate our ideas, deliberate over our contemplations and translate portrait photography as a mean of modern transcendence from user to prototype. I hope to reinterpret the religious icon experience we have so studied into the contemporary context of portraiture. I feel an image (no matter the subject) has the ability to transcend. It is however, up to the artist to compose this path-- to pull the beholder in through the window by means of compositional technique and conceptual approach-- and through these, relay the spirit and personality…the inner essence of a person to the beholder.
What is written about a person or an event is an interpretation, as are handmade visual statements, like painting or drawings. Photographed images do not seem to be statements about the world so much as pieces of it, miniatures of reality that anyone can make or acquire. There is a sense in which the camera does indeed capture reality, not just interpret it. The picture may distort; but there is always a presumption that something exists, or did exist, which is like what’s in the picture. Photography has become one of the principle devices for experiencing something, for giving an appearance of participation. The camera makes reality minute, manageable, and opaque. Any photograph has multiple meanings; indeed, to see something in the form of a photograph is to encounter a potential object of fascination. The ultimate wisdom of the photographic image is to...
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