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5.0 out of 5 stars Great portraits and a great essay on portraiture and its meanings, February 18, 2013
Richard Sanders (So. California Desert) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Pictures from a Drawer: Prison and the Art of Portraiture (Paperback)
I'm a professional fine art photographer (Dick Sanders) who specializes in street portraits of strangers, and I was interested in this book because they are, essentially, portraits of strangers. Almost all of them are extraordinary. Much can be learned about successful portraiture from them.
Over the years, I've developed a method of working with strangers, and what's most important, in the one to five minutes my subjects will give me on the street, is that I get them to be natural and passive, and specifically not present a posed face. This is the only way to get a transcendant portrait that can stand for broader humanity and become timeless. The great portrait painter David Hockney said, "The best portraits suggest a longer period of time." That's accurate. If the portrait is a reaction to the moment, it won't tell a larger story of life or allow us to see ourselves in it.
Pictures From A Drawer are portraits of prisoners, mostly from the 1920s and 1930s. They are photos for the prison's files. The prisoners are passive, resigned to their current fate, and they have nothing but time. They have little reason to pose because they have not commissioned the sittings. Yes, they may still make this face or that face, and we see these efforts in the faces of a few, but for the most part they have yielded to the photographer. The photographer controls which faces are recorded because he or she chooses when to trip the shutter. In my own work, I am well aware that I choose this moment, while also guiding my sitters into what I want to see, or more accurately -- feel. This is key: Great portraiture is not a collaboration between photographer and sitter, but an interpretation by the photographer. It's about what the photographer wants to say about life. All of the portraits I've made that failed are ones in which the sitter wouldn't yield, but rather fought me until I gave up.
Any photographer or painter who wants to do great portrait work can benefit from studying this book, and not just the portraits themselves but also Jackson's fine essay. He knows what he's talking about, from referencing the most important words of the masters, to how we make mirror and camera faces, to how we bring our own meanings to the portraits, and in the finest work see ourselves, however uncomfortable that may make us feel. He adds to the subject, too, with his own fine insights. This is an outstanding book, the best I've found on the subject. Bruce Jackson has done us a great service, bringing these unknown photographs to light. They are beautiful and deeply moving.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful U.S. portrait photography, June 25, 2010
A Reader (United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Pictures from a Drawer: Prison and the Art of Portraiture (Paperback)
I found this book in our local library (new books shelf): These are mostly single mugshots (almost all from the front). They may have been done by other inmates and they go back at least to the 1930's U.S.. What I find attractive in this book is the diversity of the shots from such earlier times; I realize that Walker Evans and others have captured the faces of suffering throughout the ages in the U.S. But the black faces were missing; this is a book that treats everybody equally and it is about a third white, a third black, and a third woman. Further, the people standing before the camera were looking into a different destiny than a sharecropper, a rural doctor, etc. i.e., there is an innocence (even in the face of a convict) that one may not have before a professional photographer.

If you also practice drawing portraits; this is truly a beautiful book.
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Pictures from a Drawer: Prison and the Art of Portraiture
Pictures from a Drawer: Prison and the Art of Portraiture by Bruce Jackson (Paperback - March 28, 2009)
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