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People you don't know

The August Print of the Month (or thereabouts) is from the 2019 Folklife Festival at Seattle Center. She was waiting to meet her grandchildren. Is it a portrait? Good question --

In the lexicon of art a “tronie” is an image of a person but not a specific person. Vermeer’s “Girl With a Pearl Earring” and Frans Hals’ “Merry Drinker” are tronies. They were almost certainly painted from a live model but not as representing a specific pretty girl or specific ruddy cheeked man. Yet a lot of people still seem to be interested in these and many other images like them.

It was only after I discovered the work of the likes of Robert Doisneau, Willy Ronis, and Edouard Boubat that I realized how compelling photographs of ordinary (read: not celebrity) human beings can be. Yes, a photograph is by its very nature much more specific than a painting. Can a photograph of a person be a tronie and be of interest on its own without the context of “knowing”? I hold that I do not have to know who Lella or the winemaker are in Boubat’s “Lella, Brittany France 1947” or Ronis’ “Winemaker, Gironde 1945” to be interested in them.

I don’t know a lot of celebrities (you can say that again) so what I hope for my photographs of people is that they will be tronies. I recently showed some of my photographs, including this one, to a small group of non-photographer friends and was delighted when one said: “You make ordinary people look so wonderful.” I’ll take it.

For a longer rant about this issue and why it bobbed to the surface in my mind look for "Where did you get the delusion ..." on my blog


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