Monday 19 March 2012

Abstracted naturalism

How do you describe how someone is posing in carte de visites made at Dunedin between 1876 and 1880? Stiff? Relaxed? Modelled? Formal? Or, articulated? Here are three portraits of an unknown person. The first was made in 1876, the remaining two during 1880. There are no handwritten inscriptions on the verso other than the years in which they were made.

I propose that the first portrait is of the young man aged about 16, while the other two show him aged about 20 years.

Notice that as he ages the point of view towards the sitter alters from being above to the lens being parallel to him. This gives more authority to the sitter and appears to increase their height.

I suggest that each pose is totally articulated by the photographer with all four limbs set so that the hands are either supporting an object, or giving support to the figure’s body. With the pose being held set for up to a minute to ‘set’ before each of the exposures was made.

The idea of the sitter first being articulated in a pose, then set in that pose and then recorded was part of the entire studio process for portrait carte de visites. Consequently, the naturalism is only ‘natural’ in that the sitter appears to be comfortable. In reality, they frequently were not comfortable. Remember people then did not have the self-consciousness of what they were looking like that we have today.

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