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 portraitist must subdue all minor interests to the face. Only then the problem of tonal arrangement in portraiture can be solved. It consists largely of a right sense of proportion, to understand the beauty of different degrees of light and dark planes, of middle tints and gradations; the relation of these features in regard to size and shape against each other, and finally, to bring them into full play in each new effect. The problem is a new one with every sitter, but it should invariably be managed in such a way that the face is the main point of attraction, and not, as is so often the case, compete with the hands, some piece of apparel, furniture, or any object of minor importance.
On Plate III we have four examples of man portraiture. They were all made by professionals, two of whom, however, have come from the ranks of the pictorialists. I refer to the portraits by Bessie Buehrman (Fig. 13), and by Arnold Genthe (Fig. 12).
On the whole I consider the direct realistic style of Pirie MacDonald (Fig. 11) or of H. J. Leonard (Fig. 10) preferable to the soft and blurred style of the other two. Many photographers seem to be of the opinion that the portraiture of men is more restricted than that of women; that there is less chance for the display of artistic qualities. This argument hardly holds good. Women are, of course, more picturesque; they can be placed more easily in beautiful surroundings, and their hats and gowns, trains, drapery and scarfs allow a more free and graceful method of arrangement. But as subjects they are not a bit more pictorial than men.
Men, more angular in line and form, and without any variety of contrast in their dress, on the other hand, offer a much richer harvest in characteristic attitudes and strong individual facial expressions. For instantaneous character
Examples in Portrait Composition.
Fig. 10. Portrait Study
H. J. Leonard Fig. 12. "Peter Robertson"
Fig. 11. Portrait Study
Pirie MacDonald Fig. 13. Portrait Study Bessie Buehrman expressions, in which every feature is pulsating life, the faces of men are to be preferred. They also lend themselves more readily to bolder schemes of lighting, as the rugged facial planes show a more definite play of light and shadows.
Pirie MacDonald has realized this quality perhaps better than any other photographer. He only photographs men, and in recent years has concentrated himself more and more upon bust portraits with a plain background.
Notice the largeness of the space which the face occupies (Fig. 11), and how he has reduced the representation of the body to a mere suggestion. Comparatively few portraitists develop a style so pronounced that it is recognizable at the first glance.
Pirie MacDonald has not only created a style of his own, but has made it academic; i. e., he has exhausted all the possibilities of his chosen method and has endeavored and finally succeeded in making it as perfect as possible. We talk of academic drawing when we think of artists like Bougareau, of Kenyon Cox - in the same sense MacDon-ald's portraits are academic. He is a believer in long exposures that do not merely give one aspect of a sitter, but a concrete result, a composite of slight changes in the facial expression. The likeness produced, so to speak, by the hypnotic suggestion of the photographer, the final aim of all his later years' portraiture, necessitated a most rigid simplification in the manipulation of his studio paraphernalia. A man bent on such immediate character reading cannot be hampered by focusing, by special lighting and arrangements of backgrounds. He must have everything at his finger ends. So he made all his appliances as compact and practicable as possible. He reduced all labor in the presence of the sitter to the very minimum, and for that purpose studied out a system of lighting that would serve all purposes.
The portrait by H. J. Leonard (Fig. 10), although an excellent piece of workmanship, does not show any such academic note of individuality. It is made in the ordinary method, and consequently shows greater consideration of the personality of the sitter. It is impossible to take all people photographically in the same manner. It may de-op a distinct style of interpretation, but surely at the expense of some of the sitters.
The pose in this portrait (Fig. 10) is simple and unaffected, the facial expression natural and full of character. The importance of the plane of the face, consisting of subtle middle tints, is skillfully emphasized by the white accent of the collar and well balanced by the two hands. The hands in the picture deserve special attention; they are expressive and at the same time accurate. In only too many portraits the treatment of hands is either entirely overlooked or of so slovenly an order that one would prefer not to see them at all. They are, in nine out of ten cases, either badly foreshortened, disproportioned, too dark, or deficient in line and modeling.
Comparatively few photographers seem to realize that the particular appearances of hands are characteristic of the dispositions of the sitters. The whole gamut of human characteristics - of weakness and strength, of timidity, kindness, anger and their opposites, etc. - could be expressed by the hands. Every good and evil passion, by their continual exercise, stamp their impression on the form and features of man, and each particular passion has its own expression.
There is little fault to be found with the portrait, Fig. 13. The pose is unconventional, though natural, and it seems to be a good likeness. The foreshortening of the right arm is a trifle careless; it looks too small in comparison with the other. The background is well handled. The dark mass on the left gives solidity to the picture, but the spotty manipulation behind the head is objectionable. It is one false note in the composition. There should be, of course, stronger high-lights in the face, but as the modeling of the features is satisfactory, perhaps little could be gained by it. The pictorial style avoids strong accents, and although the print has very few pictorial characteristics, it after all strives for the softness of effect which "pictorial-ism" has introduced into portraiture.