These ten contemporary photographers approach the subject of the human form
in vastly different ways.
When Mark Laita embarked on a photographic journey to explore the social diversity of America, he did not envision a collection of diptychs. But that's exactly what he ended up with in Created Equal, his portrait series recently featured in a show at the Fahey/Klein Gallery in Los Angeles and in its accompanying catalog of the same name (Fahey/Klein Gallery, $20).
"I started out taking individual portraits," Laita says, "but at some point I realized, 'These two are really great combined.' And later I shot several pictures that were composed to go together." The resulting series contains striking juxtapositions -- a ballerina and a boxer, Amish teenagers and punk teenagers, bikers and altar boys -- underpinned by a common humanity. A Los Angeles-based commercial photographer, Laita shot all his subjects in black and white, against seamless, with an 8x10 Gowlandflex twin-lens reflex camera, lending uniformity to varied characters. "With this setup, there are no scenic distractions," he says. "It makes it about the person. My intent is to remind us we are all equal. I'm not judging anyone; I'm just showing them the way they are." -Jack Crager
Click Here for more on Mark Laita's portrait technique and philosophy, or Click Here for a gallery with his images.
The Portrait as Masterpiece
It was unusual for Hendrik Kerstens to want to document the life of his daughter, Paula. As he notes on his Website (hendrikkerstens.com), he simply wanted "to be there" to capture "the fleeting moments that fade from memory all too quickly." What is unusual is the way this Amsterdam-based fine-art photographer goes about that task: by evoking the paintings of Dutch master painters, especially Johannes Vermeer. "It's a way for me to shake up the concept of time," he says. "I'm taking someone today with modern tastes and portraying her in the style of 17th-century artists." In doing so, Kerstens literally immortalizes his daughter, "as if to stop time and oblivion."
The project came about one day after Paula had returned from horseback riding. "When she took off her hat, I saw that her hair was held together by a hair net, and it reminded me of the portraits of the Dutch masters," Kerstens says. What fascinated him about those paintings, he says, "is the way [they can be] seen as a surface which can be read as a description of everyday life, as opposed to the paintings of the Italian Renaissance, which usually tell a story. Northern European painting relies much more on craftsmanship and the perfect rendition of the subject. The use of light is instrumental in this." Kerstens himself crafts his portraits with a Toyo 8x10 view camera.
So far Kersten's work has been seen mostly in Europe, but it was to be exhibited at the Scope New York art fair from February 23-26. -Jeffrey Elbies
Click Here for more on Hendrik Kerstens' portrait technique and philosophy, or Click Here for a gallery with his images.
The Unexpected View
British-born portraitist Nigel Parry is a master at getting celebrities to do unusual things for photographic effect. How does he put them at ease? "I have no idea," he answers with a laugh. "But if people see you are serious and genuine about what you are doing, they respect that and cooperate. I try to make the shoot painless. They're letting me use their most precious possession -- their face -- to comment on."
Parry, whose recent celebrity portraits are gathered in the new monograph Blunt (powerHouse, $60), says he usually plans out a picture before his subject arrives, often with an assistant sitting in. "Sometimes the person is secondary -- they become an element, rather than the center of attention," he says. "I like to withdraw and say, 'If this wasn't a famous person -- if it was Joe Blow -- would it be a good photo?' At times I go in with a blank slate. But I'll have a set of things I want to do -- and when I have that group of ideas, it allows me to do absolutely anything."
Shooting Philip Seymour Hoffman who won an Oscar in 2006 for his portrayal of Truman Capote, Parry decided to reinterpret Irving Penn's 1965 portrait of the real Capote. "I was ready with available light, I had marked the placement of the chair, and after he sat down I positioned the hands the way I wanted them. I don't think he knew what I was up to."
Parry's work in Blunt was shot with a Hasselblad 503CX on black-and-white film. "I don't like to show Polaroids to the subjects," he says. He prefers to let them wait until the portrait is selected and printed. "They're not always thrilled," he adds, "but more often than not, they end up buying prints." -Jack Crager
Click Here for more on Nigel Parry's portrait technique and philosophy, or Click Here for a gallery with his images.
The Photojournalistic Portrait
When Lori Grinker began the project that became her book Afterwar, she wasn't thinking about making portraits; she was thinking about telling stories. After documenting the troubled relations between Israelis and Palestinians in the 1980s, Grinker was determined to show the common threads that bind veterans of war. "I got this feeling [veterans] are on a different plane than the rest of us," she explains. Afterwar is the culmination of 15 years of work and includes more than 70 photos of veterans of 23 wars, arranged in reverse chronological order with summaries of the conflicts and poignant interviews with the subjects.
The photographs, which hover somewhere between photojournalism and environmental portraiture, have appeared in more than a dozen shows, including the Moving Walls project, which took them most recently to Amman.
"It's like a portrait of their experience," Grinker muses. "I'm not just photographing them to show a wound, but to express how they live with that wound."
At first, Grinker's idea was to create a self-contained essay on each veteran. She later found, however, that she could more powerfully capture each person's struggle with a single image. Her portraits convey survival stories while also situating each one within a larger history of war. Grinker terms this type of photography "photojournalistic portraiture." Now that she is comfortable creating portraits, she finds herself employing them more often, as in her two upcoming projects about the Grinker family's migration from Europe and professional healers. -Miki Johnson
Click Here for more on Lori Grinker's portrait technique and philosophy, or Click Here for a gallery with her images.