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July 21, 2004

Bedroom Portraits, Sepia Landscapes, and A Resource for Embattled Photographers


Back to share a few links and resources...

* I've recommended Kevin's fine and very informed PhotoRant essays in the past, which form part of his deep photo-sharing site and weblog. He's now started another worthy venture, Photopermit.org, which is intended to serve as a sort of resource and collective airing of ideas for independent photographers who find themselves increasingly targeted by police officers, security guards, and other people for "suspicious" activities that are often nothing more than personal photography. It seems like there is a new story every week (or more often) these days about photographers who have been hassled, so Kevin's site is well worth checking in on regularly.

* My favorite type of portrait has always been the environmental portrait (a portrait of someone taken outside a studio, typically outdoors in any number of interesting urban or rural settings), but until I started taking classes at photography school, I still tended to favor portraits that were rather "clean" and formal. But then I started looking at more portraits done by students in messy bedrooms, crowded work environments, abandoned buildings, and various other derelict or incongrous settings, and really loved how spontaneous and direct some of the portraits were.

Yes, some of the student work is just as mannered as the slicker work done by professionals, but I enjoy the tension inherent in more quirky and personal environments with the right subjects. And it seems that these days, the casual, cluttered environmental portrait is popular in commercial work as well as fine art.

Two interesting (and arty) spins on the most elemental of environments -- the bedroom -- come from Astrid Kruse Jensen and Brad Farwell. Jensen is a Danish photographer whose series, Allusions of Home, looks at a variety of Scandinavian women in cramped bedrooms pursuing education in foreign places (the best images are on Jensen's website). The women generally seem ill at ease, though there's a sense in the images that they're striving for a sense of order in their personal surroundings, combined with an attempt at asserting some individuality in the middle of an adjustment to a foreign environment outside of the bedroom. (Unfortunately, there is little to no background provided on the subjects depicted in Allusions of Home).

Jensen generally seems like a very interesting photographer exploring transitions and dislocation, based on this series and her other ones, Hidden Places and Moments In Between.

astridkjensen1

Astrid Kruse Jensen image, from Allusions of Home series

Brad Farwell, meanwhile, looks at high school bedrooms in the wake of their occupants' departure, and what it's like to see the individuals years later in their old sanctuaries. There is an odd sense of dislocation provided by the cleaned-up bedrooms that seem to maintain psychic traces of their occupants' past lives. As Farwell puts in his introduction to the series:

"In looking at the rooms, the most often preserved feature, and the more recurrent, was a bulletin board or similar surfaces, typically used as a visual scrapbook by the occupant, and neither large enough to be inconvenient nor small enough to be easily discarded without noticing. The most often discarded or modified article was the bed itself, which was often simply old, or an inconvenient size for the use of guests, or was taken by the occupant for their own use."

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"Katie" Brad Farwell image from High School Bedroom series

* Finally, on a separate tangent, I find it rare to encounter good nature landscapes in a commercial photographer's online portfolio, as landscapes generally don't seem to be something many commercial clients are interested in (at least, not without a car or SUV placed in the foreground)...when landscapes do surface in portfolios, they almost seem thrown in and are often poorly presented. One notable exception is Graham Westmoreland, who has some very lovely panoramic landscapes prominently featured on his site. Some of the color ones are so pretty, in fact, that I wonder if they may be digital composites...but the sepia landscapes are well presented and look outstanding.

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Graham Westmoreland image, from Venice series

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Comments

"And it seems that these days, the casual, cluttered environmental portrait is popular in commercial work as well as fine art."

- do you not find such works, in the main, derivative? They are rarely break free from a form of catalouging; individuals beside their cars, by their stalls at car boot sales, with their dogs, surrounded by collections of my little pony dolls/star wars memrobilia etc etc...

Posted by: s.cousin at Jul 25, 2004 5:29:36 AM

Much of the work is derivative, yes...after all, that's what happens when a style is appropriated for commercial purposes.

But while many photographers do nothing more than "catalog", the creative possibilities are still interesting, relative to the traditional focus on someone's facial features, using standard lighting ratios to "flatter" the face, and trying to capture some "essence" of the person.

As with most portraits, the final image is only as interesting as the imagination of the photographer, and the interaction between photographer and subject. An unusual environment and collection of objects are nothing more than extra distractions, and as you say, look as pro forma as any conventional portrait if employed in a formulaic manner.

Posted by: Robert at Jul 28, 2004 12:21:05 PM

I often read your blog and always find it very interesting. Thought it was about time i let you know...Keep up the great work

Posted by: craftmatic at Jun 4, 2010 5:14:22 AM

In looking at the rooms, the most often preserved feature, and the more recurrent, was a bulletin board or similar surfaces, typically used as a visual scrapbook by the occupant, and neither large enough to be inconvenient nor small enough to be easily discarded without noticing. The most often discarded or modified article was the bed itself, which was often simply old, or an inconvenient size for the use of guests, or was taken by the occupant for their own use.As with most portraits, the final image is only as interesting as the imagination of the photographer, and the interaction between photographer and subject. An unusual environment and collection of objects are nothing more than extra distractions, and as you say, look as pro forma as any conventional portrait if employed in a formulaic manner.

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