I/Eye: On Photography

35mm and the rapid (barely-time-to-focus) portrait

Posted in portraits by Sheila Newbery on January 22, 2010

The opening of ‘Ordinary Dancers’ & Selected Portraits at Andrea McLaughlin’s Photolab was a wonderful event, and I was delighted to see so many friends, old and new. Many people had interesting reactions to the pictures — quite a few wanted to know how the streaking lights and semi-transparent figures (and ghost figures) of the Ordinary Dancers series were created. (Panning the camera on the tripod, the use of a strobe head and a slow shutter…)

There were also interesting reactions to the portraits. One in particular, a 35mm image, Boy with Serpent, elicited questions: When was it shot? Who was the boy?

Boy with Serpent © Sheila Newbery (silver print on Kodak Ektalure)

In fact, it was an image shot quickly — indeed, nearly missed — at a public market on a roll of unrelated material; the pose and expression in no way suggested by me. At the opening, I was telling Andrea and my friend Julie Rehmeyer (who writes for Science News) these unremarkable facts, when I remembered another, hastily shot portrait whose circumstances were hardly propitious — and yet which resulted in an image of such excruciating intensity (and vulnerability), it is unforgettable: Cartier-Bresson’s double portrait of Irène and Frédéric Joliot-Curie. As the photographer tells it, it’s not much of a story: J’ai sonné, la porte s’est ouverte, j’ai vu ça, j’ai tiré, j’ai dit bonjour après, ce n’était pas très poli. He’s right: it was a piece of rudeness — he recorded a flinch — yet it is a remarkable portrait, and not just of the couple, but of an intellectual milieu.

The Joliot-Curies (Henri Cartier-Bresson)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: