This section is from the book "Complete Self-Instructing Library Of Practical Photography", by J. B. Schriever. Also available from Amazon: Complete Self-Instructing Library Of Practical Photography.
The "Portrait Study" by Bessie Buehrman (Fig. 5) is not quite free from this criticism. Costumes and surroundings, however carefully they may be chosen, are after all, only secondary attributes in a portrait, and unless the operator has the skill to light the face in such a way that it remains the main attraction, little is gained by the mere representation of an interior or beautiful accessories. Apparently, Miss Buehrman favors arrangements in slanting lines. They break up the space better than horizontal and vertical ones, and adapt themselves more readily to pic-turesqueness of effect. The pose of the girl is a graceful one. She is slightly out of proportion, and the left arm looks entirely too long, but one hardly notices these shortcomings. The tonal arrangement envelopes all details in an atmosphere of harmony, and the light coming from some unknown source (one of the greatest charms of home portraiture) accentuates the figure just enough to make it the principal object of interest.
In the other three portraits the attention from the main effect is in no way diverted by any desire to note or emphasize accessories. The chair in the "Portrait of an Old Lady," by the Towles Studio, is a trifle conspicuous, but it is subdued in the finished prints which appears on page
Examples in Portrait Composition.
Fig. 2. " Baroness de Guyll" Henry H. Pierce
Fig. 4. Portrait of an Old Lady Towles Studio
Fig. 3. "Mrs. Arnold Daly" Davis and Eickemeyer Fig. 5. "Portrait Study " Bessie Buehrman
65. This portrait is really excellent as a specimen of tonal composition, as well as a human document. The figure of the old woman speaks for itself. Does not every feature bear testimony to the fact that the photographer has caught the very essence of her individuality! Her form is invested with an elegance and a distinction quite unusual. The human note, which is so often missing, is there. It is a sympathetic delineation, which has examined the features critically and realized something of the character and soul of the sitter.
As a composition it is simplicity itself. The clear profile view of a sitting figure is always effective. The lines flow easily and the embroidery of the dress is finely indicated. The way the light has been concentrated upon the face, leaving the remainder of the picture to the subtle dark gradations, is a clever performance. I would like to see the shape of the hands more definite, but if the small space they occupy would have been larger and still as light as it is now, they might have distracted the interest from the face. The attitude of the upper part of he body impresses one as looking a trifle too stiff. It is difficult to discern whether this is a peculiarity of the sitter or of the special pose. This is the only shortcoming, if such it is.
I believe this picture proves clearly that the simpler the means are, the more astonishing the effect will be. The plainest arrangement is sufficient to fix a character or to create an impression of the corporeal, for the modern eye, that delights in Whistler, is accustomed to value artistic mastery when it is expressed with bold directness.
The portrait of the "Baroness de Guyll," by Henry Havelock Pierce (Fig. 2), I would call a typical specimen of American portraiture, when it is at its best. It is straightforward, yet delicate and refined, and excellent in tonal quality. The complexion is rather smooth, but it has the charm of not being over-retouched. The modeling is well preserved; it suggests roundness with all the subtle variations of plastic form.
Vanity is a characteristic of human nature, and we are all vain enough to want to look prettier than we really are. How to change this I really cannot see.
I do not think that there is really any objection to the photographer playing the part of the "Fountain of Youth" take out wrinkles and remove blemishes. If a woman has a drooping eyelid, if otherwise very pretty, why not be merciful and throw it into shadow so that it becomes unnotice-able. In the same way why be cruel if a man has a crooked nose, if it can be easily high-lighted so that its contour will be lost against the cheek. What we ought to consider is, whether we could not be more judicious in our flattery, and greater skill and thought in carrying it out. I feel sure that if a better standard were established on this point, an all-round good would result, alike to the retoucher, the photographer, and the general public. The shape and quality of a touch should be entirely governed by the shape and quality of the blemish; neither should the touch, however free from mannerism, be too positive and defined, as this will tend to destroy the quality of the skin, and I may say that in my humble opinion the skin is a very important factor in any portrait. Regulation touches will give you what is called texture, or grain, but they will not give skin; and the point to be considered is, do we prefer an artificial texture, or do we prefer the natural aspect of skin.
The even lighting of the face in Fig. 2 is beautifully managed. I feel that, in general, exaggerated lighting of the head is a detriment. I feel that as far as possible a softer treatment of the head is a little better than those extremely round heads. I like strong lighting for strong, rugged faces (Figs. 10, 11), but ordinarily you will get nearer to the illusion of life, to the effect of nature as you sec it in the streets where you meet people in public places, if you have a softer and more diffused light (Figs. 2, 15). Precision of form, however, should be preserved. It is essential for character delineation, and portraits like Figs.
Examples in Portrait Composition.
Fig. 6. "Miss Demorest " A. F. Bradley