Snippets from readings to build on later.

Concerning Portrait Photography and its history:

“Look at the plates reproduced in this chapter. Notice how repetitious they arc. Heads and shoulders, as if those parts of our bodies were our truth”

“…It summoned up a complex historical iconography and elaborate codes of pose and posture readily understood within the societies in which such portrait images had currency. The head-on stare, so characteristic of simple portrait photography, was a pose which would have been read in contrast to the cultivated asymmetries of aristocratic posture so confidently assumed by Nadar’s Portrait of Rossini. Rigid frontality signified the bluntness and ‘naturalness’ of a culturally unsophisticated crass and had a history which predated photography. ”

“….the head-on view had become the accepted format of the popular amateur snapshop, but also of photographic documents like prison records and social surveys in which this code of social inferiority framed the meaning of representations of the objects of supervision or reform. ”

“The portrait is therefore a sign whose purpose is both the description of an individual and the inscription of social identity. But at the same time, it is also a commodity, a luxury, an adornmcnt, ownership of which itself confers status.”

-John Tagg, The Democracy of the Image

Expanding on this, particularly the first sentence for reading questions:

A portrait, according to John Tagg in his essay The Democracy of the Image, is a “sign whose purpose is both the description of an individual and the inscription of social identity.” Tagg also says that “at the same time, [the portrait photograph] is also a commodity, a luxury…[the] ownership of which itself confers status.”

Tagg speaks about the formal portrait, a shot of head and shoulders “as if those parts of our bodies were our truth”. Think about taking a portrait, though. Say, your senior yearbook photo. You go into a room that is not yours, under lighting that is not natural, sit in a way that you never sit, directed to tilt your head or body just so. There is no truth in this at all, and yet the resulting image, which goes in yearbooks and in frames in homes, is considered “you”.

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