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Monday, 19 May 2014

Bailey's Stardust

I visited the much publicised Bailey exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery last week.

To me, a good portrait should reveal a glimmer of recognition that helps us understand a little bit more about the sitter; to provide an insight into what makes them tick.

However, I felt that Bailey only did this on occasion. To me, many of the sitters were presenting their public persona. Performing to the camera and confirming what we already knew about them.

I contrast his approach with Jane Bown. She is not as well known (she has photographed for The Observer for the last few decades); but to me, she captures her famous subjects in a far more naturalistic and revealing way.

Or, portraits by Henri Cartier-Bresson, who showed the context of each sitter. He rarely did a head shot but more often placed the sitter against  background which helped not only with the composition; but with revealing something about them.

It is of course, a matter of taste. I prefer those photographers who use natural light and a natural setting to those who use the studio to achieve the light, position and background just as they want them.

When it comes to portraiture, a natural approach helps create a more intimate setting than the artifice of a photographic studio.

Find out more:

A recent (and illuminating) profile on Jane Bown in The Observer.

An insightful article on Henri Cartier-Bresson's portraits.

Bailey at the National Portrait Gallery

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