Portrait Genre

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Throughout American photography history, people have created different photographs with various materials, and each of them has different purposes. However, people started to categorize photographic works on a style and intention basis thus influencing and reflecting the society. Photographers always have choices of what they want to include and exclude, and that had created the vision of photographer’s world.

For instance, Diane Arbus’ works and the portraits in The Gallery of Illustrious American, even though the approaches of those photographs are completely different, they still reveal the world that the photographers wanted to present. In Diane Arbus’ works, she had focused on the dark side of the world, which has created throughout series of her works. Moreover, The Gallery of Illustrious American has revealed the nobility and highness of these representative Americans, but what the photographer did not present is the Americans who has no political power and authority. The portraits in Arbus’ works and Illustrious American shared an entirely different genre.

One of the famous works from Arbus is the Young man with curlers at home, which is a portrait of a transsexual male wearing makeup, curlers, and painted long nails with a cigarette in hand. His posture of holding the cigarette and tilted head is very sexualized. Despite those factors, this is a conceptual portrait that reflects the society during that time, when people start coming out as transgender and transsexual, and the phenomenon became popular around 1966. Even if the picture has its aesthetic, the photographer still presents the authenticity of the society in the photo. In the documentary photos, it’s often capturing the daily life in which represent the environment during that period. However, this photograph wouldn’t be in the Gallery of Illustrious American not only because of the person who’s been photographed is transgender, but also, he does not have any power or authority.

In the Gallery of Illustrious American, there are 12 daguerreotype portraits of the so-called “representative American,” and they are mostly male and political figures. The series of portraits included the proud and honorific American; nevertheless, it does not show the lower class, the woman, or any race of citizens of America.  The photograph on the left is the portrait of Winfield Scott, who was a United States Army general, and this is a very typical political portrait that fits in a distinct genre: emulatory public portraits, a genre of presenting a man’s nobility and highness, and it’s usually used for public and mass reproduce. As Sontag mentioned, “For politicians, the three-quarter gaze is more common: a gaze that soars rather than confronts, suggesting instead of the relation to the viewer, to the present, the more ennobling abstract relation to the future.” The portrait clearly has an aura of dominance and significance associated with the individual pictured so as to complement the high stature and noble leadership the it intends to communicate.

On the other hand, in Trachtenberg’s Reading American Photograph, there are two types of portraits: “Memorial” and” emulatory.” (Trachtenberg, 33) The memorial genre photographs had become popular in the 19th century, and many people have photographed their children and loved ones. However, there are massive photographs of dead infants during the Victorian era.  They often created a peaceful atmosphere and let the kids wear white clothing as they take the picture. Memorial photographs are usually small and held in a fancy case, and the parents will distribute within the family preserving the memory.

Another, Walt Whitman was famous for fine portraits. One such work the frontispiece of Leaves of Grass, 1855, took a very different stand from the popular genre at the time. Walt Whitman has created his style, which later leads to the genre of what Arbus was approaching in the 1900s. Sontag concluded Whitman and Arbus together because they both revealed the reality of the world that wasn’t shown at the time. In Whitman’s portrait, he posed and dressed casually, and he included into his book that was massively produced and viewed by the public. The picture does not fit into either memorial or emulatory. Besides all of the photographs are in a different genre, they served the same intention of reflecting the image of the society.

Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre from France (1787-1851) was a photographer and artist synonymously known for his invention of the daguerreotype process. One of his photographic works, a picture of a young boy below was considerably revolutionary in to contribution to photography. Though Luis is regarded as the ‘father’ of photography he was more accomplished in painting. The picture of the young boy is one of the initial photographs taken by Luis. The picture was a symbol of the transformation that was to follow in visual representation after uses invention. It is characterized by considerably high amounts of clarity and picture precision thus viewers were considerably astonished by it. From this period 1839, people commenced using photography more elaborately in the capturing of images of loved ones and family members for memorial purposes. The photographs were more elaborate in communicating the mood of the image thus allowing more emotional interactions with the images taken. The innovation by Luis did not only affect the photography, but other relates artistic visual representations also become affected as paintings drawings and carvings acquired higher levels of accuracy in their production. The level of contrast and density in quality of picture thus become significantly superior in comparison to previous photographic works as evident in the two pictures below.

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