Andrew Taylor, Esq.Tuesday, December 01, 2009
At the last possible moment on Monday I found out I had to teach for 6 hours on Tuesday. That put my blog writing on the back burner until last night (Tuesday) when I managed to find a subject to write about and did so in short minutes. I went to bed with pangs of regret for having thrown away the negatives of La Señorita.
This morning I woke up to a pleasant and interesting e-mail communication from Parksville, BC professional photographer Gordon Lafleur who wrote:
I find it interesting and charming that the gaze of the lovely Mexican woman on today's entry is the same gaze that appears in most of your grandaughters’ photos.
It would seem that Lafleur caught a quirk of mine that I was too close to notice. The pattern was set back then. It was in that unintended class that I taught yesterday at Van Arts (a brand new set of students who all seem to be passionate for photography) that I told my students that for years I have been taking pictures of Rebecca and everybody else, gazing at my camera seriously. I told them that I had borrowed, adapted and made my own the same serious gaze capture that Julia Margaret Cameron so eloquently used in her portraiture. The portraits of Alice Liddell (taken by Cameron when Liddell was an adult) when she seriously posed as a little girl quasi adult for the Reverend Charles Lutwidge Dodgson influenced my approach as did the half century stretch of portraiture by German photographer August Sander.
There was a fundamental reason for the seriousness of early photographic portraiture. To begin with in the painting of portraits few (except for La Joconde) would sit and smile for the length of time needed to render the painting. Serious portraits were the norm. With the advent of photographic portraiture, photographers were plagued with slow lenses and even slower silver sensitized materials. At first the best subjects for these photographers were dead people. Only corpses could remain at rest and not move during those lengthy many minute exposures. As exposures began to shorten devices were still needed to keep portrait subjects at rest. Metal bars attached to their backs and even neck braces were used. In the length of a long exposure the closing of eyes were inconsequential. As the exposures shortened the closing of eyes became a problem.
It was easier, then, for people to gaze, with no smile into the distance.
As I sifted through that little leather-bound album of portraits that I had used as a portfolio to get work in the Mexico City of 1974 I found the portrait of my Yorkshire-born friend Andrew Taylor who is the godfather of my eldest daughter Ale. As he gazed seriously into my camera he almost looks like an American Civil War general. This is not an accident. The portraits of that civil war that I saw inside an American Heritage book at the USIS Lincoln Library in Buenos Aires in the early 50s were the ones that awoke my interest in photography. Those civil war generals, as I gazed on them in that first glimpse around 1951 or 52 looked to me like men that I might have seen that same day walking on Calle Florida.
Andrew Taylor with his wild and wide psychedelic tie looks to me like an ever so slightly less-crazed General William Tecumseh Sherman about to embark on his destructive march to the sea.
In order of appearance:
1. Andrew Taylor, Esquire
2. General William Tecumseh Sherman
3. General Ulysses S. Grant
4. General John B. Hood (of the Confederate Army)