-Recent and Current Trends and Influences in Portrait Photography-
Many photographers in the past have had dynamic careers that have influenced many up and coming photographers and will for years to come. Because their work at the time has been preserved in inspirational and innovative images of their eras rock legends and cultural icons, similarities yet progressions can been seen through a comparison of photographers such as David Bailey, Anne Liebovitz and Rankin one of today’s most talked photographers.
David Baileys career was at a high between the years of 1957 and 1969 and was most famous for his striking black and white images of icons including John lennon and Paul McCartney; Mick Jagger, Jean Shrimpton and the Kray Twins. At this time Bailey was making a revolutionary progression to 35mm cameras at the beginning of the 60’s. The SLR camera Bailey purchased in ’61 allowed him the flexibility to loosen up the fashion genre. For example on of his early fashion shoots for Vogue ‘Young idea goes west’ featured Jean Shrimpton in the chaotic urban environment of New York. These photographs epitomized a new street realism and marked a drastic departure from the Static formally posed fashion and portrait photography of the previous decade.
Bailey’s mapping of the ’60s was marked by two collections of portraits; David Bailey’s Box of Pin-ups in 1965 and Goodbye Baby and Amen in 1969. Powerful portraits of musicians including Mick Jagger, Lennon and McCartney reflect the stature of these 60s media heroes in these volumes. And actors such as Michael Caine and Marianne Faithful. Along with models Jean Shrimpton and Sue Murray. Baileys portraits are characterized by close cropping, strong lighting and often stark, bare backgrounds; which have given them a dramatic and enduring intensity. With most of his models Bailey had a very close rapport that brought a certain level of intimacy to his photographs, which was unique amongst his contemporaries. Some examples of his work can be seen on page six. In these examples you can clearly see Baileys simple yet distinctive style, the two small photographs of Michael Caine and Mick Jagger clearly show that Bailey has lit the subject with either one or two softboxes from the front or 45 degrees and has also lit the background very strongly to allow the model to stand out more clearly from the background. Baileys photographs seem to be quite contrasting and he uses quite harsh side lighting on Micheal Caine it makes the character appear to be very strong and threatening which may have been Baileys intention.
Bailey remains still as active as ever and has continuing importance as a portrait photographer evident in his contemporary photographs of Naomi Campbell, Amber Valetta, Johnny Depp and Ralph Fiennes.
Anne Liebovitz whose career has to be renowned for her work for Rolling Stones magazine was spread throughout the years of 1970 to 1990, and alike Bailey she had a very close rapport with many of her models and often caught them in natural off-guard moments. Her portraits were very different from her contemporaries, she very rarely used studio set-ups and even when she did they were unlike and ordinary portraits. Anne tried to capture a side of the celebrities and icons that had never been seen before and often created a surreal looking moment. Her style was very different from Baileys, instead of close cropping and stark backgrounds which was a very well used technique in Bailey’s studios; she would give every model a different personality and look to what the public eye was familiar with. Many of her photographs use the body as well as the face as a means of expression, which is unusual for a portraitist.
One of her portraits, which represent the era very well, is one of Arnold Schwarzenegger taken in 1979. It is an excellent representation of the all out obsession with self-maintenance and gym mania that took place in the eighties. In contrast it’s so different to the portraits in which all you see in a “body armour” that most individuals seem to need. Anne’s pictures represent people relating to each other in a non-defensive way; this is only possible because of the close relationships she has with her models. One of the best examples of her work is the last portrait of John Lennon and Yoko Ono. This represents the close relationship she was able to build with her models and also using the foetal position shows her use of the human body as a means of expression, this portrait is very strong graphically and yet emotionally it creates a powerful image by itself. In many of her portraits some of her equipment can be seen, for example: lighting, stands, backdrops she makes the shoots seem casual and ‘make do’. Many photographers have tried to import this style in to their work. Anne uses the surroundings in her portraits to represent a side of her models career or personality that has never been seen before. Her subjects range from being on tour with the Rolling Stones to portraits of Bette Midler, Liberace, actress Amanda Plummer, Clint Eastwood and Bruce Springsteen. And recently was the photographer requested to tour with mega group Oasis.
In the example shown on the back of page six: the final portrait of John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Anne has used a very soft, subtle lighting. She has enhanced the ambient lighting probably with a softbox overhead, and some reflectors surrounding. This is evident by the shadow created to the left side of Yoko by John Lennons leg and also by the highlight along the centre of his body.
A modern day equivalent to these well-known celebrity snappers has to be Rankin, known as a ‘Demi-god’ amongst the fashion, music and movie world; Rankin is the man to take your picture. Rankin who was responsible for setting up award winning student magazine ‘Dazed and Confused’ in 1991- a poster format street magazine dedicated to new talent and new ideas. Rankin has found time to shoot almost every cover within his increasingly busy schedule for example: adverts for Givenchy, British Airways Concord, Vodafone, Diesel and Prt a Terre. Also many editorials for magazines such as Q, Allure, Interview and The Big Issue; and his most famous portraits of international icons including Robbie Williams, David Bowie Bjork Kate Moss Bono and Damien Hirst.
There has been a progression to scandal over the past 10 years, images that are meant to shock, outrage and disturb. Rankin has been responsible for creating these shockingly different portraits which he hopes will inform the fashion industries creative agenda by commissioning shoots featuring models crying, on fire, gorging on chocolate, disabled models, big women, models licking bloody knives and shots with assistants hands being revealed. One of his most dark and sinister is a collection of photographs named “Dead Fashionable” in which he has placed models lying in horrid positions acting to be dead and creating very disturbing images.
A lot of his photographs are again like Liebovitz caught in off guard moments, creating a natural pose in which the model has never been seen. He is also a fan of close cropping head and shoulder shots like Bailey for most of his portraits. Examples of these are seen on page six in the photographs of Damien Hirst, Jay Kay, Bono and Debbie Harry. Examples of the use of bare, stark backgrounds are below in the shots of Quentin Tarantino, Mel C, and Natalie Imbruglia. Although Rankin is a revolutionary when it comes to shocking the fashion world with his bingeing models and dead fashionable images. His portraiture can be traced back to influences from current photographers such as David Bailey and Anne Liebovitz; everyone had to have an inspiration. Many of Rankin’s images are dark and very contrasting in colour and texture, creating such realism when relating to the model, yet surrealism in the surroundings to the model.
In the examples shown all of them are lit in very simple yet effective ways, the portrait of Bono from U2 is lit by ring flash; this is evident by the reflection in the subjects glasses and this is the same for the portrait of Jay Kay and Debbie Harry. The subject is evenly lit but has a highlight in the middle of the brow and across the cheeks. Ring flash has just recently become a popular lighting method but perfect results are rare. Experience is necessary when using this technique to its full advantage. In the other portraits of Natalie Imbruglia, and the pop band Air, very simply the backdrop has been lit very brightly whilst the subject has been lit with one or two soft boxes perhaps at 45 degrees or from the front. The photograph of Mel C on the other hand is most definitely lit by 45 degree lighting as you can see two very subtle highlights in her eye; the backdrop again would be lit very brightly as this helps the models stand out
Many photographers do not agree with Rankin’s shock tactics but his reply to them is:
“Well go out and do something for yourself. If you’re really dedicated to this then you should be able to create yourself!”
That’s exactly what Rankin has done a revolutionary in his field he has not only created himself he can create a whole image and personality from just one photograph.
A likeness can be seen in all of the talked about photographers’ work mainly because they were and are very much in the rock and roll scene! Especially Anne Liebovitz and David Bailey, although they worked very differently. David Bailey alike Rankin uses very simple sets and lighting techniques where as on the other hand; Liebovitz may seem to use simple lighting and studio set-ups. Everything is strategically placed and lit, and she is known for her complicated lighting techniques, some may say she is a perfectionist or maybe even an obsessive.
Each of these photographers I have talked about are strong and independent characters each of which does not look for approval or praise from their work. They are on personal missions and journeys to see how far their mind will stretch in to the new and ‘never done before’.
Bibliography: www. Rankin.co.uk,
Amateur Photography magazine
Photographs Anne Liebovitz 1970 to 1990
National Museum of Photography, film and TV