Can Portrait Photography & Portrait Art Compare?

Portrait photography has always fascinated me as a photographer who has travelled the world and seen so many different faces, each telling a different story and all of interest to me and my camera. I don’t agree with photographers that say you need to spend a couple of months with some obscure nomadic people to get images with feeling. I want to feel them but also to be alienated from them. Of course I am always charming, but I’ll never blend in no matter how much I try and my vision is much clearer in the first few hours and days than it is after some festering. What constitutes a portrait, does the ‘sitter’ have to be aware you are photographing them? Do they need to be alone? Photographic portraits explore many different possibilities in how to create the most evocative image.

What actually is a portrait?

After a while of thinking about this I reckon a portrait is when someone knows they are being photographed. If they don’t it’s probably street photography. In general, we can be a little bit scared of it because we’re aware of all the lighting and bits of kit that portrait photographers can have. There’s no need as you can shoot really well with natural light. Family photography. I reckon we’ve all been taking portraits for years without realising it! People looking or playing for the camera, we all have it on our mobile phones!


Of course there are so many portrait photographers I have found interesting over the years and not just photographers but artists too. I like honesty in photography, I don’t beautify models in any way, I celebrate imperfection! This is something I respect in an artist like Tracey Emin, an artist who certainly does not shy away from revealing her true self. Her work is raw, honest, sometimes uncomfortable but so is life, so she stays true and really doesn’t care what anyone thinks.

The present collaborative exhibition of Tracey and Munch at the Royal Academy, ‘The Loneliness of the Soul’ is a collection of Tracey’s work alongside Munch and it’s interesting to consider the parallels of the portrait and self-portraits in art and photography when looking at an artist like Tracey and her love and respect of Munch and the emotional impact of artists portraits. Tracey Emin / Edvard Munch both such emotional artists this is an exhibition that has had great reviews.

The National Portrait Gallery has one of the best collections of photographic portraits and has triumphed through lockdown with its constant efforts in keeping us entertained with photography. Spearheaded by the Duchess of Cambridge their ‘Hold Still project presented some really quite emotional images from our time in lockdown through photography.

In the foreword, the royal says the photos are ‘poignant and personal’ (iStock/The Independent)

In the foreword, the royal says the photos are ‘poignant and personal’ (iStock/The Independent)

We’ve all, no doubt, got snaps on our phones of family, nature, food, drink, moments that captured us during lockdown and looking through this project brings those all home and I think helps us to realise we were all in this together and have worked together to get through. Photography is such a powerful force of art and lockdown photography images have captured this last challenging year in so many amazing portraits. The ‘Hold Still’ project is now captured in a fantastic book with profits shared between the portrait gallery and Mind charity – a great buy!

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