Ashley by Benjamin Donaldson, from the series Summerland
Everyone's talking about portraits all of a sudden, and the timing couldn't be more perfect for me. It's not just my solipsistic preoccupation with my own headshot that's got picture taking of people on my mind. In fact that's the least of it (can you imagine?) Next Friday, after the dust settles from the Winter '07 Edition of Hey, Hot Shot!, we'll open our first solo exhibition in a while. jb artist Benjamin Donaldson is debuting a series he's been hard at work on for a couple of years, Summerland. A bit further down the line, my Summer group show, which I'm co-curating with Joerg just happens to be called... The New American Portrait.
Ben is a smart cookie, and a fabulous technician - his portraits, shot with an 8" x 10" camera, and printed 24" x 20" are divine. His Summerland subjects have been hypnotized, instructed to visualize "the most beautiful landscape imaginable." They are utterly at ease, shoulders are sloped, some have beatific smiles. Photographing them in this state produces a slightly uncomfortable, yet thrilling sort of voyeurism. I look at them and wonder what they're seeing, and soon enough my thoughts are wandering off to my own gorgeous vistas.
Over the weekend, I was dicking around on the internet, late with the press release for Ben's show (not to mention several other writing assignments) and I came across lovely Zoe Strauss' repost of Richard Avedon talking about taking Kissinger's portrait. Thank God for Ms. Zoe Strauss! In the essay Avedon writes:
A photographic portrait is a picture of someone who knows he's being photographed, and what he does with this knowledge is as much a part of the photograph as what he's wearing or how he looks.
Reading that helped me put my finger on what I've found so special and affecting about Ben's portraits. In the press release I write:
The photos in Summerland are fascinating departure from traditional portraiture. With the subjectâ€™s presence focused elsewhere, their involvement in the photo itself is subverted, exposing a vulnerability and beauty thatâ€™s unique and captivating.
I abhor writing releases usually (I know I'm not supposed to say that, but man, it's a chore.) This time it was actually downright fun, and reading what everyone's saying about portraiture in general is only getting me more excited about Ben's upcoming exhibition.
Over in Alec-land, his Portraits and Mug Shots post has a fascinating discussion happening in its comments. Alec begs to differ with Avedon saying that , his take is that "many of the great portraits are made when the subject loses ambition" and they give up on trying to control how they're perceived.
It's good stuff, oh yes it is. I love all you chatty wordy photographers - please keep talking.