The New Portrait

The New Portrait: A Study in Three Parts | Photography

These ten contemporary photographers approach the subject of the human form in vastly different ways: Annie Leibovitz, James Hill, Albert Watson, Michal Chelbin, Todd Eberle, Matthew Rolston, Mark Laita, Hendrik Kerstens, Nigel Pary, Lori Grinker.

It’s always been much easier for me to understand why photographers want to take pictures of people than why people want to have their pictures taken. For most of us, even the famous, it can be profoundly discomfiting to forfeit our power of self-deception, to put ourselves into the hands of a portraitist who has his or her own agenda. Richard Avedon once recalled that Henry Kissinger, a man used to authority as Richard Nixon’s secretary of state, pleaded with him to “be kind to me” when he sat for a portrait. A master of realpolitik, Kissinger recognized an imbalance of power when he saw it.

The portrait in art comes with social, cultural, and psychological underpinnings that are complex and endlessly fascinating to contemplate. As a species, we have learned to understand others by reading their faces; it is one of the ways we bind ourselves together and protect ourselves from danger. In that regard, our interest in faces can be seen simply as an evolutionary fact.

The invention of photography changed that fact in astounding ways. It allowed us to see our own faces over the course of time. In an interview several years ago, the late Susan Sontag noted that “never before in human history did people have any idea of what they looked like as children. The rich commissioned [paintings] of their children, but the conventions of portraiture from the Renaissance through the 19th century were thoroughly determined by ideas about class and didn’t give people a very reliable idea of what they had looked like.”……


About Farah Mahbub

Farah Mahbub was born and brought up in Karachi. She attained her bachelor’s degree in fine art, literature and psychology. Being primarily self-taught, she has been working as a professional photographer since 1988. Her photographic journey has taken its course through exploration of various genres, ranging from fine art, commercial, architectural and landscape photography. However for her, personal self-expression is best conveyed through fine art photography, which she continues to explore and dedicate her abilities to. Working formerly in analogue, her present work now is primarily in the digital format. As a practicing artist, Farah’s work has been exhibited in both local and international exhibitions including the 11th Asian Art Biennale in Bangladesh and the Mohatta Palace Museum in Pakistan. Her work has also been published in multiple books most notably Journeys of the Spirit: Pakistan Art in the New Millenium. Farah joined the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture in 1997 as a faculty member, where she has been ever since. Under her tenure, photography has evolved from a single class into an undergraduate minor spanning the Communication Design and Fine Art and Interior Design departments. Farah recently had her fifth solo show "Baraka Silsila-e-Nisbat" with an accompanying monograph. View all posts by Farah Mahbub

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