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.”……