The Portrait: Simple Yet Complex, Obvious Yet Profound Part 1: The Eyes

By Judith Leitner

Over a century and a half ago, most folks were unable to create tangible visual links to their past. Many lacked the financial means necessary for creating pictorial inventories of themselves and their ancestors through the pricey art of Portrait Painting. Then, in 1839, Charles Daguerre in France and Henry Fox Talbot in England both announced that they had devised a way to ‘fix an image’, and the art and magic of Photography was born. With its affordable price tag, this clever novelty would enable everyman to express a primal, compelling need: to record, share and collect memories in pictures.

Cityscapes and still-life studies were the focus of the earliest photographic endeavors, as both subjects tended to be immobile during long exposures. Portrait photography evolved swiftly and concurrently, as technological advances in optics and chemistry allowed for less extensive exposures and richer images. Studios burst on the scene to accommodate the torrential parade of everyman and aristocrat alike. Since then, we’ve been voraciously crafting portraits and positioning ourselves in the ‘decisive moment’.

In spite of his deep ambivalence towards modernity and middle class values, the bohemian poet and art critic Charles Baudelaire allowed himself to be ‘mechanically reproduced’ by a [...] continue the story