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The Small History on Portrait Photography

  • Date Submitted: 06/10/2013 07:19 PM
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The Small History on Portrait Photography
      When we enter a discussion of the history of portraiture, we need to understand that we are looking not only at what has come before, but also at trends that will be used again. An examination of portraiture over the past 2,000 years shows many ideas that are still used in photographic portraiture. We are not saying that the portraiture of the past is what we should do, but rather that the ideas and approaches important throughout history are still finding currency today.
      From prehistoric times, humankind has used pictures to describe, communicate, remember, and celebrate. The portrait was a natural extension of these uses. As societies developed, important individuals soon became the subjects of pictures. During many periods, portraits were idealized to convey the importance rather than the reality of the person. Sculpture and bronze statues are among the best records of Western portraiture in the pre-Roman era. This record indicates that only the elite upper or ruling class had portraits commissioned. Many portraits were produced in Europe during the medieval period, but their relevance to photographic portraiture is more ideological than practical. For much of this period, the church dominated portraiture, and likenesses associated the portrayed individuals with God or the church rather than conveying their personas. Since the church served as the pre-eminent supporter of the arts, its dictums determined a great deal of the content and thus Medieval portraiture tended toward ecclesiastic subjects.
        We often consider the Renaissance as the height of photorealistic portrait painting. This period brought the use of perspective, light, and shadow to create a dramatic sense of depth and form. Most important from our point of view, the use of light effects in painting was pronounced and continues on today. In addition, the Renaissance painters brought great craft to portraiture, making the quality of...


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