A History of Portraiture

Topics: Photography, Portrait, Daguerreotype Pages: 8 (2887 words) Published: March 20, 2014
Mackensie Archibald
History of Photography
October 15th, 2012
Portraiture, expressing people since photography was born
Before discussing what portraiture is and the history of it, what first needs to occur is to understand the true meaning of portraiture. Unlike several other areas of photography, portraiture is a personal experience. It is based on the interaction between the subject and photographer. Portrait photography is an act which involves both the photographer and the subject to reveal certain aspects or emotions about themselves. Through this type of photography it is easy gear the subject’s emotions into a single snap shot. The history of portrait photography is a good place to start to see the different styles in which these images are used. There are pretty much two categories for portraiture either it is fine are or it is commercialized. The only true difference between these two is if the portrait is made for a specific client or for self-assignment. Even though the photographer controls both formal and informal portraits taking a candid image is different than a standard posed portrait. The method to candid portraits is simply relaxed and natural. There is another common portrait technique and that is an environmental portrait. For this type of portrait it is important to position your subject in an environment in which it reflects something about their true character or a trait of their personality. Those two can be either used in fine art or commercialized.

To start talking about portraiture in depth we must ponder what trends have been popular before. From there we can see what trends may also be used again. After researching the topic of portraiture over the past couple weeks, we can see repeated patterns which have been used in portraiture over and over again. From the dawn of civilization, as humans, we have used pictures to document, describe and commemorate particular events in our lives. As societies developed more and more there were several significant figures which soon became the subjects of pictures and portraits. In the earlier times, portraits stood more an idea of how important the person was rather than the personality of the subject.

The best record of non-photographic portraits would of course be statues in the pre-Roman era. Some of the earliest portraits date back to B.C. The most popular of these type of portraits were those done in Egypt. It was common to do a funeral portrait or a “mummy portrait”. While in this time it was difficult to capture a person’s essence and personality in stone these types of portraits were used often to remember the deceased. Many other portraits were done during the medieval period in Europe. However, the church ruled in Europe during this time period. It was looked down upon to have a portrait done unless you were a noble figure or trying to reenact a consecrated figure of the church. Why you ask? Well it would give the subject of the portrait a likeness to God.

Portraiture became extremely dominate in the Renaissance Era. During this period the use of perspective and light helped to create a more photorealistic portrait. Shadow was used to create depth and form in paintings. This got rid of the common “flat look” which pictures seemed to possess before this era.

Artists such as Leonardo De Vinci and Rembrandt affected the way which portraits were created. Leonardo added color and layered his oil paints when doing portraits to give them a softer glow. Rembrandt added four different aspects, in his paintings, and to the way modern photographic portraiture is used today. The first is known as “Rembrandt lighting”. With this type of lighting there is a small highlight on the shadow side of the face. By positioning the shadow differently it adds much more texture to the image than if the person’s face were entirely in the light. The second aspect would be choosing to face the subject slightly away from the light source, this is also known...
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