Category Archives: portraits
A local photography group organised an afternoon meetup in the Botanical Gardens with a model, so we could practice portraiture in the pretty-yet-tricky sunshine under the trees. These were taken with my faithful 50mm lens and Sony A580 camera, mostly on low iso, f1.8 and reasonably high shutter speeds. We took turns directing our very helpful model, who directed us in directing her.
I love the aesthetics of old photographs, the careful poses, the natural light, even the soft decay of an image. I sometimes collect other peoples orphaned ancestors via online auctions – old photos adrift from family albums, rich in costume detail, hinting at lives beyond the camera.
This tiny tintype is, according to the back, Miss Amanda Fish. She would probably not have been a dazzling beauty even in her own time, but she has made a heroic effort to present herself to best advantage, wearing elaborate earrings, a velvet bow with a brooch, and a top with fancy shiny buttons.
Her gaze is wonderfully intent. Was she having her portrait taken to give as a gift to some special man or woman? I’ll probably never know (nothing showed up with a quick online search anyway), but I can enjoy speculating.
Miss Fish may well make her way into a drawing or painting sometime soon.
I’ve started spending a couple of hours in a life drawing group once a week; working from a photograph just isn’t the same thing as working from a breathing, moving model. Plus, a time limit (10 minutes here) helps keep things energetic . . .
The freakshow mentality has long outlived the literal freakshow. Now we look at people who are other than the norm safely from our living rooms, in faux scientific documentaries or reality TV shows. Like our Victorian ancestors we are frightened and thrilled, and fascinated and enchanted and entertained by strangeness. Fat, thin, lost or won the genetic lottery, born strange or deliberately making themselves strange: we celebrate and objectify people on the margins.
I can’t help admiring people like the Schappell sisters, who manage to create good lives for themselves, despite an incredibly tough start and challenges that would daunt most. And I can’t help despising parents who make their children into fascinating freaks.
I generally love the aesthetics of early photography, and occasionally indulge myself buying old postcards and photos. With studio portraits of entertainers there is often an interesting tale to be tracked down – online newspaper archives such as Papers Past (in New Zealand) and Trove (in Australia) are wonderful places to browse and be distracted for hours.
Anyway, yesterday, I received my latest $5 online auction purchase, a signed 1912 postcard of Anita, “The Living Doll”. Anita was a very small Hungarian woman who toured the world, met with royalty, always dressed elegantly, and managed to cultivate an aura of dignified intelligence. I hope her life was a happy one and that she retired to live the life she wished; I couldn’t find any mention of her after 1912.
Anita hopefully did better than the young woman in another postcard I have, Ruby Westwood “The Giantess of Foxton”. She and her brother supported a large family by exhibiting their unusual size, from when Ruby was about 7 years old. They traveled first through New Zealand, then to Australia, and eventually to the UK and beyond. But in San Francisco, at age just 19, Ruby pricked her finger on a rose stem, developed blood poisoning and died. Her brother Wilfred’s tale is not quite so sad, after Ruby’s death he managed to reinvent himself as a boy-wonder glass blower, and as an adult managed other entertainers, including travelling through Africa.
It seems hard to imagine parents exploiting their children this way, but then I remember (though I wish I could forget) “Honey Boo boo“.
Another poster off to the printer today. This intriguing improv show uses audience input as starting points for some well twisted tales.
Some summer afternoons you idle away in pleasantly pottering in the garden doing minor tasks and routine chores: washing dogs, planting out seedlings, chasing butterflies with a camera, and when that fails, playing paparazzi with flies.
I say “you”, but
maybe probably, it’s just me.
Tomorrow, I’ll try for the beach. But today . . .
Am I really disciplined enough to post a piece of m’art here where anyone can see, once a day, every day for a year? It seems unlikely, but hey, here’s a quick sketch for today.