Tony Grist (poliphilo) wrote,
Tony Grist


There's a lot of guff talked about portraiture. Here's an example

"Fascinating though photos are they can only capture the subject’s appearance. Only with paint can an artist explore character and show how it is shaped by experience."

And your evidence is?

Portraitists all have their particular schtick. Rembrandt makes his sitters look soulful, Sargent makes them look elegant, Freud makes them look grumpy and lumpy. The idea that an artist captures the inner truth about the sitter is pure sentimentality- and makes the unwarranted assumption that there's something there- some sort of unchanging essence- that can be captured. At best a portrait gives us a persona, a mood, a performance- which may be something the sitter wants to project or something the artist has imposed.

Photographers also have their tricks. A photographic portrait can be as striking as a painted one.  If this weren't the case the camera wouldn't have taken over- and it has. 

This is the article I'm taking issue with. It's illustrated by two portraits of Cardinal Manning- one by the painter G.F. Watts, the other by the photographer Charles Watkins. Both are of interest. Watts turns Manning into an archetype of ascetic spirituality; Watkins shows us a man who seems much less sure of himself. And the truth about Manning is....?  I've no idea- and neither did Watts or Watkins.


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