I’m often asked by the many delegates who attend my Photography Workshops. What Books do you recommend for the Portrait Photographer? So I thought I would write a Blog Post on the Subject. The following is a series of Books I recommend for the Budding and Established Portraitist. You will notice the majority of these listed are books on Portrait Painters. It is my opinion that the Portrait Photographer should always look at the work of the Portrait Painter. For they were around long before the photographer. Many of the lighting & posing & even retouching techniques we portrait photographers use; are inspired from Artists such as Caravaggio, Michelangelo, and DaVinci & Rembrandt.
Cecil Beatonhas been one of my favourite portrait photographers. Portraits & Profiles is a must for the Portrait Photographer. Not only does the book feature his work but also his thoughts and opinions of the stars who sat for him. The opinions taken from his private diary entires on the celebrities and historical figures who appeared in his portraits. He spent 50 years charming the rich and famous from behind the camera in order to produce an array of iconic portraits.
But now Cecil Beaton’s true and often scathing opinions on stars from Mick Jagger to Monroe have been revealed in a new book.
Cecil claimed the Rolling Stones frontman “could be a eunuch”, described one half of Grace Kelly’s face as “like a bull calf” and dismissed Elizabeth Taylor as vulgar and unladylike.
Displaying disconcerting foresight, he said of Marilyn Monroe: “It will probably end in tears.”
But despite his many waspish commentaries, the photographer was full of praise for the Queen who he described as “serene, magnetic” and “meltingly sympathetic” and her “very pretty” sister Princess Margaret. When skimming through the volume, I arrived at Cecil’s Portrait sitting with Actor David Warner, and was reminded of my own portrait sitting with David. Cecil’s descriptions of Warner still aptly describe the acting legend. Cecil Beaton: Portraits and Profiles £20.40 (Amazon)
Every Portrait Photographer should have a copy of this book. I can’t remember when I last learned so much, this book fascinates me. Artists who have been just names are brought to life. Most of all the sculptor Houdon, whose sensitive, enlightened translation of the Greek style comes to life, and the British painter Thomas Lawrence, once a household name across Europe. What puts people off art history is the idea that it is merely about a sequence of styles – rococo to neo-classicism to Romanticism. If you want to understand the medium of portraiture this book will give you a flying start. The portraits are presented in various categories (e.g. the status portrait, the cultural portrait), preceded by short ‘bite-size’ essays that provide an insight into the context, illustrating their point with comparative works. Citizens & Kings Portraits in The Age of Revolution 1760-1830 £45.00 (Amazon)
Focusing on the art of self-portraiture, this effortlessly engaging exploration of the lives of artists sheds fascinating light on some of the most extraordinary portraits in art history. Self-portraits always seem catch your eye. They seem to do it deliberately. Walk into any art gallery and they draw attention to themseles. Come across them in the world’s museums and you get a strange shock of recognition, rather like glimpsing your own reflection. For in picturing themselves artists reveal something far deeper than their own physical looks: the truth about how they hope to be viewed by the world, and how they wish to see themselves. In this beautifully written and lavishly illustrated book, Laura Cumming, art critic of the Observer, investigates the drama of the self-portrait, from Durer, Rembrandt and Velazquez to Munch, Picasso, Warhol and the present day. She considers how and why self-portraits look as they do and what they reveal about the artist’s innermost sense of self – as well as the curious ways in which they may imitate our behaviour in real life.Drawing on art, literature, history, philosophy and biography to examine the creative process in an entirely fresh way, Cumming offers a riveting insight into the intimate truths and elaborate fictions of self-portraiture and the lives of those who practise it. A work of remarkable depth, scope and power, this is a book for anyone who has ever wondered about the strange dichotomy between the innermost self and the self we choose to present for posterity – our face to the world. A Face to the World: On Self-Portraits £15.90 (Amazon)
During his remarkable life, Yousuf Karsh, who was born in Armenia in 1908, traveled the globe to photograph subjects ranging from historical figures to anonymous farmers to steelworks. “Karsh: A Biography In Images” is a full revision of the 1996 60-year retrospective of his work and brings that popular catalogue back into print in an affordable paperback format. This new edition covers the photographer’s career with greater breadth than its previous incarnation, adding works from his early experiments and his photojournalism commissions in Canada. Karsh’s reputation as one of the most sought-after portrait photographers of the twentieth century is well established. A roll call of his subjects is a veritable who’s who of the modern age–Winston Churchill, Jacqueline Kennedy, Pablo Picasso, Walt Disney, Elizabeth Taylor and Albert Einstein, to name just a few–and this book features many of these figures, in some of the most recognized images of our time. But added to the portraits are a number of lesser-known or previously unpublished photographs–early figure studies, atmospheric views of the Ottawa theatre and scenes of wheat fields, city streets and factories across Canada. With its long autobiographical essay and extensive captions for each photo, many of them new to this edition, “Karsh: A Biography In Images” is both an elegant celebration and an indispensable overview of a life lived in photography. Karsh Yousef – A Biography in Images £29.50 (Amazon)
Realist revolutionary: The painter who brought the heavenly down to earth Caravaggio, or more accurately Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571-1610), was always a name to be reckoned with.Notorious bad boy of Italian painting, the artist was at once celebrated and controversial: Violent in temper, precise in technique, a creative master, and a man on the run. This work offers a comprehensive reassessment of Caravaggio’s entire oeuvre with a catalogue of his works. Each painting is reproduced in large format, with recent, high production photography allowing for dramatic close-ups with Caravaggio’s ingenious details of looks and gestures. Five introductory chapters analyze Caravaggio’s artistic career from his early struggle to make a living, through his first public commissions in Rome, and his growing celebrity status. They look at his increasing daring with lighting and with a boundary-breaking realism which allowed even biblical events to unfold with an unprecedented immediacy before the viewer. An accompanying artist chronology follows Caravaggio’s equally tumultous personal life, tracing his history of debts, gambling, drunken brawls, and murder. Caravaggio: Complete Works by Sebastian Schutze £29.24 (Amazon)
Hans Holbein the Younger (1497/8 – 1543), one of the most versatile and admired painters of the Northern Renaissance, trained under his father in Augsburg and then worked for leading patrons in Switzerland before settling in England as Court Painter to Henry VIII. Holbein is my favourite portrait artist. He was a hugely ambitious artist, and even during his formative years in Lucerne and Basle designed jewellery, stained glass and woodcuts as well as paint major altarpieces and portraits. He also carried out several monumental decorative schemes for private houses and civic buildings. In all his commissions Holbein sought to rival the greatest masters of Germany and Italy – notably Durer and Mantegna – as well as Antiquity, and by the time of his visit to France in 1524 he was determined to secure a position as court painter. This, and the precarious situation he was finding himself in as a result of the Reformation’s increasing hostility to religious works, drove him to England for good in 1532, where in addition to decorative schemes and Triumphs he both drew and painted numerous unrivalled likenesses of leading courtiers, merchants and diplomats, among which is his celebrated double portrait ‘The Ambassadors’. This acclaimed, richly illustrated book by Oskar Batschmann and Pascal Griener – now available in a revised and expanded Second Edition – is a major advance in our understanding of Holbein’s contribution to European art. The authors re-examine every aspect of a remarkable career, in which they take full account of the artistic and cultural influences that affected the artist and of his friendships with leading humanists such as Erasmus and Sir Thomas More, and cast fresh light on many hitherto vexing questions and misunderstandings. Hans HolbeinPaperback£20.00 (Amazon)
Captain James .T Kirk, TJ Hooker, Denny Crane, icon William Shatner sat for a portrait session in Studio City, Los Angeles last month. From the age of 7 I have watched Star Trek, and admired William Shatner as an actor. Now was my chance to meet and work with a screen Legend. Arriving at his Office in Los Angeles, I could scarcely believe my eyes, as I spotted William Shatner through the window blinds. Taking a few deep breaths, I got to work setting up my portable studio kit. With a number of ideas floating in my head, I explained to Bill, that I wanted to achieve a ‘plain simple expressive look‘ he replied jokingly ‘I don’t do plain‘, I quickly redescribed the look as ‘emotionless‘, and ‘Bill obliged me with a series of wonderful expressions.
I then changed my lighting and, directed Shatner’s expressions to a more fierce look; ‘Bill’ has always played hero’s in the majority of his work and I wanted to make him look more villainous’. Mr Shatner had some fun with these expressions, saying, I’ve played many hero’s I always get the girl.’ It was wonderful to work with, Mr Shatner. As a photographer having the opportunity to photograph an icon is indescribable. I’m looking forward to returning to Los Angeles in June for a series of portrait photography courses. All images where taken with Mamiya Leaf Credo 40 + 645df with MAMIYA SEKOR AF 110 MM F2.8 LS Lens. Photoshoot was supported by lighting and equipment from Calumet Photographic.