Portraiture: It’s a curious no-man’s land where art and commerce can cease hostilities, sometimes even be besties for once in their mistrustful lives. In the heyday of the great oil portraits – and that’s been quite a while, as you may have noticed – patrons with pocketsful of cash managed to order up exquisite and eternal pieces of art.
In the 20th century, the two masters of photographic portraiture were Richard Avedon and Arnold Newman. Avedon stuck to the studio, photographing his subjects under controlled conditions against clinical white backgrounds. But Newman entered his subjects’ own domains and composed visual poems made of environment and subject, of line, shape, and shadow.
You’ve probably seen Newman photographs. His portraits of artists, scientists, composers, businessmen – even a notable war criminal – studded Life, Holiday, Look, and other mid-century magazines. His Picasso – hand pressed to face, one eye in shadow – is iconic.