Abraham is 'Alive'
Fine Portraiture by photography has opened many windows into our past, both glorious and frightening. Photographic portraits are in many instances, our only link with, and insight into, the character and souls of many of the World's great leaders, artists, and tyrants. In recent years, Time Magazine commissioned Sanna Dullaway, a young Swedish digital artist, to add some colour to the library of Congress portrait of Abraham Lincoln.
The original portrait was taken at the White House in February 1865. The photographer was Alexander Gardner (for the techies, he used a 16 x11 glass plate camera with positive plates- transparencies). Just 7 weeks later, the President was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth at the Ford Theatre in Washington DC. The original black & white portrait by Gardner is regarded as beautifully created and technically excellent, especially as it was made over 150 years ago. The newly coloured portrait is regarded as a 'modern masterpiece', and a perfect example of how 'Fine Art Portraiture' truly is 'Timeless'. The timing of this Blog post is however coincidental but is more than a bit auspicious, as tomorrow - April 27th. back in 1865, is the day that President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. Just another illustration of how important and valuable, the Art of Creative Portrait Photography is, in the creation of history & memories, both private and public.
Into more modern times - a very famous Portrait of Winston Churchill, taken by one of my mentors, Yousuf Karsh of Ottawa. This excellent black & white portrait also receives the modern digital colour treatment (albeit a little simpler with a modern original image). The black & white original was created by Karsh in Ottawa, Canada in 1941, and immediately became the one image that signified the British resolve and determination to beat the Nazis in World War II. It hit the cover of Time magazine at the time, launching the international career of Portrait Photographer Yousuf Karsh. This portrait of Churchill illustrates the excellence of Karsh's lighting, technical fluency with his plate camera, and his gifted ability to connect with his subject. This portrait went on to be used on the postage stamps for 7 different countries. Yousuf Karsh went on to create most of the World's iconic portraits, and we will take a broader look at his work later, mainly because I am quite intimate with his work and I had the pleasure of meeting him briefly at an Awards ceremony in Toronto in 1971.
I have always had a high level of respect for the level of quality of Portrait Photographers in the mid-18th Century, when the process of photography was in its infancy. In southern England at that time, an artistically gifted portrait photographer, Julia Margaret Cameron, photographed the rich and famous around Stratford-upon-Avon and the greater London area, including our own William Butler Yates. While she disregarded most of the established photographic optical and chemical guidelines of the time, her style and methodology, leaned very much towards the artistic. Mrs Cameron created a large body of very imaginative and uniquely artistically graphic and aesthetically unique portraits of world renowned people we would never have otherwise seen. Here is a Portrait of the famous poet, Sir Alfred Lord Tennyson, created in her Salon Studio on the Isle of Wight. For this and most of her work she used a 11"x 15" hand coated wet plate camera, available natural North light and some reflectors. Most of her portraits were produced between 1850 and 1872, this was created around 1870.
Other studios at the time were producing fine work also and here is a comparison of one of the posh London studios of Elliott & Rye, who also photographed the poet. Very much more technically correct, a brighter, sharper portrait but lacking in the aesthetics, emotion and nothing close to the artistry of Julia Margaret Cameron (1815 - 1879). Most of the Cameron works are held in the Victoria and Albert Museum in Knightsbridge, London.
Staying in England and bringing us right up to recent times, with an internationally known name in Portrait Photography, Annie Leibovitz, out of New York City. Probably the most successful portrait photographer of all times, easily the wealthiest, and world renowned to the point of being iconic. Again I am a little biased as I did meet her very briefly around 2009 in NYC. She is charming, artistic, organised and fiercely passionate about her work. She is the best known photographer in the world today. She has steadily built her reputation from many years back and her iconic photograph of John Lennon and Yoko Ono, nude in a hotel room in NYC, shot for the cover of Rolling Stone Magazine. Annie creates iconic portraits almost monthly and recently she created another in her portrait of Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace. The complete portrait shoot was recorded and produced in a documentary by the BBC, and is still available on You Tube. A beautifully artistic portrait, elegant, regal, and yet insightful - even if the back ground (garden of the Palace) was added in post-production.
Enough for this post me thinks. Next time, we will go back to the American Civil War - into Native America, to the Ireland of the 40s and lots more iconic, timeless portraits that keep our Heroes, our History and our Culture 'Alive'.