This resource is geared towards students in Years 7 to 10. Through visual analysis, activity and conversation you will evaluate how photographic portraits communicate artistic intentions, see the impact of evolving technologies and be inspired!
The portrait of soprano Amy Castles has a dreamy quality, which characterised the photographic effects of this era.
Photographer, Mervyn Bishop, captures Vincent Lingiari, Elder of the Gurindji people of the Northern Territory, receiving the soil of his sacred land from then Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam.
Whitlam negotiated a historic land claim between the traditional owners and the British pastoral company, Vestey Ltd, resulting in the traditional owners acquiring title to 3,250 square kilometres of land.
Which parts of the composition clearly communicate the emotion of the landmark ruling?
Photographer, David Moore, captures Australian Prime Minister, Harold Holt, listening to a speech given by the President of the United States of America, Lyndon B. Johnson, at the RAAF Fairbairn Airport in Canberra.
President Johnson was the first American President to visit Australia on October 20, 1966. President Johnson’s speech was about an American and Australian shared vision for establishing peace and stability throughout the Asia-Pacific region.
Considered great men of change, the two leaders held sincere warmth and high regard for each other. The tone of their friendship is evident in Prime Minister Holt’s remarks on his visit to the White House in Washington in July 1966 where he quipped, “All the way with LBJ.” The slogan was said to have intensified Australia’s opposition to the Vietnam war.
David Moore captures the moment when Australian Prime Minister, Harold Holt, gazes towards the ground with hands behind his back.
Think about the friendship between the two leaders. How do you think Harold Holt’s posture reflects his feelings for the American President?
Tell a story by photographing an event or important moment.
Your image might connect with a personal story or you might choose to focus on a community event.
Focus on capturing the emotion of your subject.
Will it be it an overt, impassioned response or will your subject display more introspective qualities?
The decisive moment can capture the emotion or heartache of a victory or loss.
What elements has Ellis captured to reflect the victorious occasion?
Capture your friend or subject in motion while taking part in sport.
Consider how your subject is positioned.
Is there an emphasis on the physicality of the body or more so on their attitude?
The Surrealists of the early 20th century didn’t have access to the tools of today’s digital photography.
Inspired by Surrealist Man Ray and Australian Modernist photographers, Max Dupain and David Moore, experiment with different ways to create dream-like effects using different reflective surfaces.
Look for strong angles and ways to crop your subject to further distort your imagery.
If you have access to a darkroom, you could create a photogram to create a photomontage of your subject or print to transparency to create an interesting layered effect.
What makes Sylvia Breamer’s portrait alluring to the viewer?
Consider the conventions of portraiture, such as the pose, gaze and setting in the ‘glamour photography’ context.
American photographer George Hurrell greatly contributed to the classic glamour ideal.
Widely known as the photographer who invented the Hollywood Glamour Portrait, Hurrell was credited for launching and immortalising the careers of many famous sirens of screen, including Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford and Norma Shearer.
His portraits also included actors such as Errol Flynn. Hurrell used a classic three-point lighting technique, which involved a key light directed at the front of the figure (strongest light), a fill light to fill in the shadows cast from the main light, and a backlight (positioned behind the figure) to create a strong contour and space between the background and subject.
This three-point lighting technique illuminated the subject in a sophisticated way to create an alluring image.
How has Hurrell positioned the three lights in his portrait of Errol Flynn?
Lights, camera, action!
Using studio lights positioned to the front, rear and/or above your subject, explore the three-point Hollywood lighting technique to create a glamorous portrait.
Research different studio lighting techniques such as Paramount, Loop, Rembrandt, Split and Rim lighting – you could also explore different ways to diffuse the lighting source to create softness or strengthen the kicker light (rear light) to create a halo effect around the hair.
These portraits by David Moore all express the emotion of a decisive moment.
Observe a crowd or large group of people such as your school assembly.
Explore how to use repetition, harmony and balance effectively in your photography.
Is there a particular element or technique that creates a harmonious whole out of the many different individual elements that make up the image?
Time to people watch!
Choose a setting where people are engaging in activity.
You may ask your subject/s for approval before taking their photos or choose to remain inconspicuous.
While being aware of the importance of not discomforting your subject, observe closely their mannerisms; note their hand gestures, their habitual movements and the way they laugh.
Try to capture your subject in an honest moment that conveys their true personality.
How does David Gwinnut communicate this unsettling side of Bowery's character?
Search for the Elements of Photography: Composition, Light, Depth, Line, Texture, Pattern, Shape and vantage point in both the built and natural environment around you.
How can you position your subject in relation to your chosen element/s to create a narrative?
Perhaps you could focus on the contrasting textures of the subject’s skin with interesting shadows cast across an accompanying object or facade.
David Moore’s portrait of experiential painter, Michael Johnson, captures the artist in his working state. Johnson has said,
‘...You start with the experience of the bare gesso, the primed canvas, and that is sublime. That is meditation itself... If you're playing a musical instrument, because it's so close to the body, it's not like painting, where you've got to go to the box to pick up some paint. In a way I try to reduce all that by mixing colour on the surface... I don't see any difference between the spirit of music and the spirit of painting. Not so much painting, but colours... I'm interested in colour divorced of its physical body.’
Discuss how the experience of colour itself has embodied the artist
Robin Sellick’s portrait of Shane Warne depicts him as an illuminated figure emerging from a background of turf.
Discuss how this reflects Warne’s sporting achievements.
What part of Warne’s character might the red light be alluding to?
The hand-colouring of photographs was popularised in the mid to late 19th century before the widespread introduction of colour photography in the mid 20th Century. Hand-colourists would heighten the realism of an image by overpainting a monochrome photograph with paints or dyes using cotton swabs or fine brushes.
Early daguerreotypes were coloured using a process invented by Swiss painter and print maker Johann Baptist Isenring, who mixed gum Arabic with pigment then applied heat to the surface to fix the colouring.
Create a portrait with emphasis on bold, saturated colours.
The fewer colours used, the more impact your portrait will have.
Allowing one colour to dominate could, for instance, evoke a particular mood in the portrait or choosing a hue for the figure set against a neutral background could draw more attention to different textures in the portrait.
Compare and contrast the following silver gelatin photographs produced at different times.
Reflecting on the composition of each portrait, how do these contribute to the viewer’s understanding of the subject?
Are there particular elements, for example, light and shade or angular lines that contribute to the feeling of each portrait?
Where is the subject’s gaze cast and why?
This exhibit was written by Aimee Board, Learning Facilitator at the National Portrait Gallery.
This exhibit was edited and produced by Alana Sivell, Digital Learning Coordinator at the National Portrait Gallery.
Thank you to all artists and organisations for being so generous in allowing us to include these works.