These ten contemporary photographers approach the subject of the human form
in vastly different ways.
Like a talented painter, Michal Chelbin creates portraits that eloquently speak a language of contrasts -- between shadow and highlight, as well as the dark and light sides of life.
For her recent Strangely Familiar series, which chronicles Eastern European circus performers, Chelbin says she "tried to focus on the real person and not the mask." This tension between what we expect from her subjects and how they actually appear -- usually with a disarming, dissatisfied stare -- has prompted frequent comparisons to the work of Diane Arbus.
Chelbin, who was born and raised in Israel but now lives in New York City, began photographing Russian immigrants in Israel's big circus shows six years ago. As the project progressed, she traveled to Russia and Ukraine, photographing smaller shows in rural towns. A few years into the project, Chelbin also moved into the realm of color, sometimes re-creating pictures she'd taken previously in black and white.
"I am always fascinated to see the contrast between vivid costumes with gray surroundings," she explains. In one image, a young girl, dressed in a hot-pink leotard and tutu, stands demurely in front of four coal miners desaturated by soot.
In fact, many of Chelbin's muses are preteen girls and boys, often costumed prematurely in the raiment of adulthood. "I like to focus on this age between innocent and experienced," she says.
This liminality draws the viewer into Chelbin's portraits. And it helps explain the attention her work has garnered, including three honors from the National Portrait Gallery's Schweppes Photographic Portrait Prize and an Aperture book on Strangely Familiar planned for 2008. -Miki Johnson
Click Here for more on Michal Chelbin's portrait technique and philosophy, or Click Here for a gallery with her images.
The Environmental Portrait
Having started his career doing fine-art and architectural photography, Todd Eberle brings an atmospheric sensibility to his portraits for Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, and other magazines. "I approach everything similarly," says the New York-based Eberle, "but it's different with a portrait because you're putting a person in it, and you want to respect their space and not distract from them. So I try to flesh out the environment with just as much information as necessary."
Eberle adds that portrait sessions often entail unplanned factors, such as a celebrity's limited time -- or patience. "I can be very studied," he says, "but at a certain point I have to just go.
It may be a challenging situation, but you have to think on your feet and make it work."
A case in point: Eberle's portrait of famed artist Robert Rauschenberg (left), shot for a Vanity Fair story announcing a show at New York City's Metropolitan Museum of Art. Eberle showed up at the artist's home in Captiva, Florida, within hours of Hurricane Charley in August 2004; Rauschenberg was, Eberle says, "kind of fragile," having suffered a stroke a few months earlier. "The picture came in the pressure of the moment," Eberle says. "I put him next to one of his works, and I thought of the mirror as kind of a metaphor." Pressed for time, Eberle placed a softbox under the tripod on which his Linhof 4x5 view camera was mounted. "The lighting came out a little bit ghostly," he says. But Rauschenberg's spirit of survival is what comes through. -Jack Crager
Click Here for more on Todd Eberle's portrait technique and philosophy, or Click Here for a gallery with his images.
The Art of Collaboration
One of the foremost names in contemporary photography, Matthew Rolston considers portraiture a creative act in which he is both performer and audience. "A portrait is a picture of someone who is allowing his or her picture to be taken," he notes. The act of portraiture is, then, completely collaborative in nature. That's especially true when working with image-conscious stars like Salma Hayek and Jack Nicholson, whom Rolston shot for a recent article in Rolling Stone. The article coincided with the opening of Nicholson's 2006 movie, The Departed, in which he plays a fairly bloodthirsty character. "I had some ideas for the picture, but when we spoke with Jack about his ideas, he kept talking about how this character just enjoys killing people," says Rolston. "So we came up with an idea together. He even knew what color and type of stage blood he wanted to use in the photograph."
The act of creating a picture also requires Rolston to become an audience to whatever talent is in front of his camera.
"I hold that moment precious," he says. "Here is this famous person, and it's as if they're giving me a private performance. And that moment is ephemeral. It's there and it's gone." -Jeffrey Elbies
Click Here for more on Matthew Rolston's portrait technique and philosophy, or Click Here for a gallery with his images.