In this age of the disposable moment, and in this age of everyone having a camera on their phone, the necessity to record everyday people in a ‘formal’ portraiture is important now, more than ever.
Formal portraiture has been around in one form or another for over 4000 years. Harking back to the hieroglyphics of ancient Egypt; the need to record the likeness of the important people, the busy people, those who affected everyday life to give their likeness to the masses was important. Not only did it confer status upon the subject of the portrait, by doing something the ordinary folk could not do (having time to sit and have a portrait painted) but also allowed their sitees image to be shared.
The purpose of sharing a likeness said to the people ‘I’m your boss, I’m in charge’ but it also allowed the people knew who to blame in the event of a crop failure or seeing the leader who was sending them to war. These portraits meant everything and the manor in which the subject was pictured was highly important.
Spinning on to the time of Richard III, his portraits after the battle of Bosworth we doctored. The victors, Richard’s slayers, found the easiest way to dispel any notion of a heroic death through manipulation of his portraits. This manipulation to show the people and have them believe he was somehow cursed and that the new regime in all its glory would serve the people well. This is a classic example of the earliest form of Photoshop and is a clear example of the reading of a portrait to tell a story, both by Richard himself and then the Tudors after his death, trying to legitimize their rule.
Portraiture has never been about truth, its always been about portraying a message, whether it be ‘remember me’ through to ‘look how important I am’. But as time and attitudes have changed, formal portraiture, in this age of the selfie, is more important than ever.
A formal portrait still makes you stand out from the crowd, it still set you above the abundance of photos out there. A formal portrait is less likely to be disposed off and survive the ravages of time than say a holiday snap from Tenerife in 2008.
A formal portrait sends your message through time, to your descendants, to historian’s and is of histrorical importance.
You may not realise it now, but the decision to have your portrait taken, has historical ramifications. People in the future will look at your picture, look at all the little differences between them and you across time. Your story will still be told, long after you’re gone. I cite my own personal example a portrait of my Great… Great… Great… Grandmother. Prompted by this photo I researched her and her family… turns out her father was in the Cavalry that made the final charge into the French lines at the Battle of Waterloo. If it hadn’t been for this portrait, I wouldn’t have discovered this story…
So if you’re umming and ahhing about whether to have your portrait taken… do it. Keep your story alive…
幸せな写真を作る (make happy photos)