Thursday, July 24, 2008

Portraiture and Reference Photos


“Photographs lie.” I’ve heard several artists use this phrase to describe the phenomenon of photographic distortion, and how the artist must learn to interpret the limitations of photographs in order to create realistic pieces. I think that this is especially true with photographs of people, as the subject is in constant motion, and the photograph may capture an uncharacteristic expression, or poor lighting and harsh shadows may conceal important facial features. Obviously, this problem can be overcome by working from life, and when this is not possible, partially overcome by taking hundreds of reference photos while paying careful attention to lighting.

Sometimes achieving this is not possible, as in the case of post-mortem portraits or when working from client photographs that are less than ideal, but I have no such excuse for my current portrait. The portrait in progress is shown in the center above, flanked by two of my reference photos. I took the photos in a museum with limited spotlights from above in order to preserve the integrity of the textiles on display. The photos are very poor in terms of clearly displaying the subject’s facial features, and I do not like the lighting in either of them. However, they do reveal some information about the subject’s facial contours and expression. Also, I was able to spend a good amount of time talking with subject and I was able to study her face and also gain insight into her personality. This time spent with her enabled me to clearly see that the photographs do not capture her spirited personality, though they provide decent roadmaps to work from.

This is where I think the true artistry of portraiture comes in. Though I used the photographs as references, I also spent a good deal of time stepping back and examining the face, using my memory to determine what needed tweaking to really capture her likeness. I also changed the lighting in the portrait so that it is not coming directly from above. Though I will make sure to obtain better references in the future, I don’t think of this challenge as a complete setback as I believe it has enhanced my understanding of what it means to create a portrait.

4 comments:

Deborah Ross said...

Holly, she is more alive in your painting than in either of the photos. You are certainly right, photos can lie. It's so much better to observe the subject, and if you're not able to work from life, at least have several photos for reference. Your work is always a treat to look at.

hbedrosian said...

Thank you, Deborah. I'm hoping to do my next piece from life, provided I have a subject with the time and patience to do a sitting!

Marsha Robinett said...

This is a very well done portrait, accomplished under circumstances that would challenge the most experienced. Your article is right on, very well written and informative. Thank you for sharing.

hbedrosian said...

Thank you, Marsha. The portrait isn't done yet - there is actually another person in the portrait, and I am facing the same challenge with the lighting!