John Constable. Wivenhoe Park, Essex

Does a portrait have to be of a person?

Does a portrait have to be of a person, though? People often ascribe human characteristics to inanimate objects. A car that is having trouble starting might be “stubborn,” or a powerful storm might be “angry.” What if the attributes shown in a landscape were supposed to be ascribed to the person who owned that land?

Dr. Abram Fox

John Constable. Wivenhoe Park, Essex
John Constable. Wivenhoe Park, Essex

The main reason I’m posting this is because I’ve given Kukkurovaca a hard time in the past because he only likes portraits which don’t show faces. But it’s an interesting essay in general which reminded me a bit of Annie Leibovitz’s Pilgrimage and how it represented people by showing us images of where they lived and what they handled.

A lot of time when we discuss photography, we get sidetracked by the meanings of specific terms like “landscape” or “portrait” or “straight” or “street” and forget how fungible everything is. So it’s nice to be reminded by a larger art history and education publication that  a landscape can be as much of a portrait as a headshot.


The only way I’ve found to see the Kahn Academy link without having to create an account is by clicking on their tweet below.


High-contrast Pictorialism

Anne W. Brigman, The Heart of the Storm
Negative 1902. Print 1914
Gelatin silver, toned or gelatin silver bromide
Anne W. Brigman, The Heart of the Storm
Negative 1906.
Gelatin silver glass interpositive ca. 1940, reworked from earlier negative

So the same day that my post on Inspiration Points published here, the George Eastman house tumbler published a very different version of the Anne Brigman print which caught my eye at Oakland.

The Brigman print I saw in Oakland was very close to the print at the Getty. Extremely low contrast. Everything you’d want from something Pictorialist. Seeing a high-contrast 1940 print of the same image is interesting…and offputting.

And kind of comforting. With the focus on technical mastery and using all the contrast and tonal range available and trying to get things as sharp as possible, it’s nice to be reminded that those tools aren’t the only ones available to photographers. I’ve never been a huge pictorialist fan but yeah, I much much much prefer the subtlety of the older print.

Update: I did some digging around at the George Eastman House to see if there was any additonal information about these. It’s nice that they have a record of the early image and the later one. Even better, the later record states that, “Brigman reworked her earlier negatives as late as the 1940s.” So this isn’t the case of a rogue printer updating old work to current fashions. The artist herself decided to revise her previous work.


Bons baisers des colonies

Ici, les femmes n’ont pas de nom, elles ne sont que des «types». Le corps est une marchandise comme une autre, soumise à une exigence d’exotisme.

[Here, women do not have names, they are only “types.” The body is a commodity like any other, subject to the requirement of exoticism.]

Safia Belmenouar

Sure enough, colonial postcards were often a kind of soft core porn.

John Edwin Mason




An exhibition of colonial postcards. It’s a shame more of these aren’t online (the featured image seems to change though) but even the three I’ve seen posted serve to remind us of the kind of baggage that comes with the colonial gaze.

It’s very clear what kind of appeal is being sold here. And what it means to be “exotic” and female. And why images of a mixed-race future when centered around whiteness makes a lot of non-white people uncomfortable. And why appropriation of native clothing for fashion photoshoots or sexy photoshoots perpetuates more than just the male gaze.

Walker Evans. 1955

Common Tools

Week 8: [Crate Opener]

Walker Evans. 1955

I’ve always loved this series of images. Much of what I find appealing about Walker Evans in general is his love of type and letterforms. I’ve always seen his Common Tools photos as fitting perfectly with that mentality. First and foremost these are intended to be used for specific tasks and are the kinds of things that are easily overlooked and ignored unless they’re defective.

Carlos Javier Ortiz

North Lawndale

And just as black families of all incomes remain handicapped by a lack of wealth, so too do they remain handicapped by their restricted choice of neighborhood. Black people with upper-middle-class incomes do not generally live in upper-middle-class neighborhoods. Sharkey’s research shows that black families making $100,000 typically live in the kinds of neighborhoods inhabited by white families making $30,000.

Ta-Nehisi Coates

Carlos Javier Ortiz

Carlos Javier Ortiz

Carlos Javier Ortiz

Carlos Javier Ortiz

As much as I enjoyed Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Case for Reparations, I found myself really thinking about and appreciating Carlos Javier Ortiz’s photos of North Lawndale which accompanied the article.

Ortiz’s website suggests that he’s more into social justice photojournalism—lots of people and getting into the thick of things in proper Robert Capa fashion—but these aren’t that kind of photo. Nor are they mining the textures of poverty and decay for superficial appeal and authenticity.

These photos illustrate how different Black America is from White America even today but do it in a way that references a lot of the photos I associate with White America—especially the way the New Topographics looks at the built environment. They also point out a glaring blind spot in Looking at the Land and the concept of what we mean by 21st-century American views.*

*Note: I love both the New Topographics and Looking at the Land.