Portraits--Two Photographic Responses
"I would choose to be painted by the Chicago Portrait Company. I think that there is a certain straightforwardness to what they did. Paintings from photos. How modern. And I also like their dishonesty. The company hired a bazillion people across America during the late 19th and early 20th centuries to go door to door selling painted 'portraits in colors' made from 'small photographs.' And the results were quite beautiful. (I am writing about one in my dissertation.) The salesmen sent the small photos to Chicago, where a fleet of artists copied them in oil or reverse glass. The salesman returned a few months later to deliver the masterpiece. Some shadiness comes with delivery, as you were not told the prices of frames when you bought the portrait. Surprise! A frame costs just as much as the painting. But you pay anyway. And now you have something to hang over your mantle."
Alex O. says:
"I always thought I'd want Richard Avedon to do my portrait. His searing portraits of Americans of all walks of life in The American West and, on the other side of the professional photographic spectrum, his work with Gianni Versace in the '90s, inspired me to take up photography and pretty soon I was obsessed.
Photographs who embrace human subjects have to be enormously charismatic, persuasive or trustworthy. 'Collaboration' was a fashionable term, the notion of a symbiotic harmonious relationship between sitter and photographer carried a comfortably romantic connotation. But Avedon took an antagonistic view, claiming that the portrait was a 'contest' between photographer and subject, and that excellence was produced only when the photographer won. He had an amazing ability to reduce people to their barest selves, isolated against that empty white background, and a reputation that apparently prompted Henry Kissinger to ask of the photographer, 'Have mercy on me.' Avedon's images were clear and cruel and so, so compelling.
I always wanted to know what I would look like as an Avedon; I even began to fantasize that I might understand something better about myself if I could see myself through his eyes. And then others, too, could look at that version of me, and see, finally, my depressive, destructive self-loathing. The black truth, brought up from the depth of my soul, a depth much deeper than the size of my body, could come to reside on the visible level of my skin. It would make me ugly, and then people could see how close I was living to death.
Incidentally, one of my favourite portraits is of Avedon himself. It's intense and haunting. He was quite charming and handsome when he was young, working for Harper's Bazaar and revolutionizing fashion photography."
More responses to come!