A Photo Teacher |

The Photographic Scene

Posted in PHOT 150 by Paul Turounet on August 19, 2014

Identity and The Photographic Portrait

From the medium’s early inception, photographers were immediately interested in capturing the likeness of people on film, the photographic portrait. Unlike the portrait paintings, the photographic portrait provided a seemingly exact likeness and description of a person. However, the portrait photograph presented far more than a descriptive reality of people. A common existential condition was revealed – an individual psychology and collective sociology as well as the tension between the private and public self. The portrait photograph questioned and provided clues to reflect on our sense of identity and our roles within a complex social fabric.


© Dorothea Lange (left) and August Sander (right)


Such photographs demand the understanding attentiveness and development of a mutual trust between photographer and subject to allow the individuality of the subject to be considered. As a photographer working intimately with people, it becomes important to ask how true the photographic portrait appears to be in depicting a pertinent aspect of the person photographed and the level of accuracy the portrait has in describing the supposed true character of the subject.


Meanings of Space and Place in the Photographic Landscape

As intimate as our own backyards, the sheer awe of the natural landscape or the congestion of freeways, strip malls and suburban development, photographers have been interested in exploring the landscape to gain a greater understanding and sense of meaning within our ideas of space and place. Not since the middle of the nineteenth century has the question of what we are doing within the land we occupy been so central to interpretation by photographers.


© Francis Frith


Early on, photographers including William Henry Jackson, Timothy O’Sullivan, and Carlton E. Watkins, responded to the wonderment and awe of the frontier with the expansion of America west. These early landscape photographers sought to capture vistas of spectacular beauty and untamed wilderness empty of civilization within the traditions of romanticism as suggested by landscape painting of the time. The photographs revealed the grand scale of atmospheric space and the particularities of places. The myth of the American landscape was further reinforced with photographs of Ansel Adams and Edward Weston as the West grew increasingly more populated. Yosemite, the Pacific Coast and the expanses of the desert were places that remained pristine, and were photographed with the romantic urge to preserve what was rapidly disappearing.

With the escalating development in the land, the vision of the landscape became less innocent and by the middle of the twentieth century photographers began to re-consider our relationship to the landscape. While still engaged in the desire to record our sense of place, these contemporary photographers including Robert Adams, Lewis Baltz and Lee Friedlander, focused on the culture of nature and how we’ve come to occupy a space and place. Their photographs questioned the myth of the natural landscape, revealing how the landscape has been transformed by our presence and the cultural, political, spiritual and scientific meanings of this adaptation on the land. For the landscape photographer, the present challenge lies in making photographs that address our ideas of the landscape in ways that make sense out of contemporary experience. Does such a place of natural beauty still exist? Or can beauty and revelation be discovered in our transformation of space?


The Photograph as Document

The city streets, the chaos of modern life and photography are intimately linked. With the advent of the small hand-held camera, faster film and lenses, photographers became hunters of the moving and evolving life unfolding in front of them with each step on the sidewalk. Among its practioners, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Frank, William Klein and Garry Winogrand established themselves as the visionaries within the genre of street photography – the theatre of everyday life. Street photographers have continued to prowl the streets, stepping onto the stage of modernity all the while prowling for visual pleasure and meaning within that split-second fragment of time.


© Helen Levitt (left) and Robert Doisneau (right)


As suggested by John Szarkowski in The Photographer’s Eye, “immobilizing these thin slices of time has been a source of continuing fascination for the photographer. And while pursuing this experiment he discovered something else: he discovered that there was pleasure and a beauty in this fragmenting of time that had little to do with what was happening. It had to do rather with seeing the momentary patterning of lines and shapes that had been previously concealed within the flux of movement. Cartier-Bresson defined his commitment to this new beauty as the decisive moment, but the phrase has been misunderstood; the thing that happens at the decisive moment is not a dramatic climax but a visual one. The result is not a story but a picture.”

Like the visual poetry Cartier-Bresson achieved with his intuitive sense of time, photographers such as William Klein and Garry Winogrand roamed the streets like stray dogs, wandering relentlessly and aggressively, making life reveal itself for their camera. This frenzied point of view confronted life, allowing for photographs that exposed the rawness and beauty of the everyday and commonplace. They plunged themselves into sea of the crowd with an assertive camera vantage points. When asked why he was so interested in street photography, Winogrand remarked, “I photograph to find out what something will look like photographed.”


© Danny Lyon (left), Sebastião Salgado (top right) and Mary Ellen Mark (bottom right)


While such photographers as Philip-Lorca diCorcia are now utilizing techniques from the studio, including staging and controlled lighting, to make photographs on the street, other photographers such Josef Koudelka, Danny Lyon, and Nan Goldin have utilized small camera aesthetics to reveal personal narrative concerns. Photographers, such as Sebastião Salgado, Mary Ellen Mark and Eugene Richards, are utilizing the camera to explore the social condition with the photograph functioning as a document to height awareness and consciousness.



Shoot photographic images that reflect your interpretation of the photographic scene, including the following:

  • Identity and the Photographic Portrait
  • Meanings of Space and Place in the Photographic Landscape
  • The Photograph as Document


…..The Photographic Scene


Give particular attention to utilizing the camera and following visual strategies:

  • Light (top, front and side lighting, diffused lighting, and back lighting)
  • Compositional Organization (rule of thirds, symmetrical and asymmetrical balance, the placement and level of the horizon line, and the use of scale and perspective)
  • Photographic Description (various vantage point strategies to reveal a point of view (looking up and down & eye-level), a sense of depth with foreground-to-background relationships, and figure-field relationships (through separations of tone, shape or pattern)
  • Emphasis and Moments of Exposure (use of selective focus and the aperture to reveal emphasis of pictorial content and the use of the shutter in capturing the decisive moment of exposure)



For the critique (see Calendar for Due Date) and evaluation, please complete the following:

  • minimum of 3 Contact Sheets from black & white film printed either Analog or Digital, revealing a full exploration of each genre – Portrait | Landscape | Document)
  • minimum of 3 Prints from black & white film as follows.  Prints are required to be printed in the Darkroom:


  • 1 – 2 critique prints reflecting your interpretation of the photographic portrait that suggests a sense of a persons’ identity within the context of their environment, reveals a particular detail of a persons’ identity or an interpretation of self-portraiture.
  • 1 – 2 critique prints reflecting your interpretation of the photographic landscape, whether it be the natural, urban, suburban and/or the relationship between these contexts of place.
  • 1 – 2 critique prints reflecting your interpretation of the photograph as document of the everyday experience.


Each critique print is required to be retouched. It is not necessary to mount the photographs for presentation. Turn-in all contact sheets and prints in a manila envelope for evaluation and feedback.


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