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Reading Passage "Portrait" Duplicated Below


 
 
 
 
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The encounter that a portrait records is most tangibly the sitting itself, which may be brief or extended, collegial or confrontational. Renowned photographer Cartier-Bresson has expressed his passion for portrait photography by characterizing it as "a duel without rules, a delicate rape." Such metaphors contrast quite sharply with Richard Avedon's conception of a sitting. While Cartier-Bresson reveals himself as an interloper and opportunist, Avedon confesses -- perhaps uncomfortably -- to a role as diagnostician and (by implication) psychic healer: not as someone who necessarily transforms his subjects, but as someone who reveals their essential nature. Both photographers, however, agree that the fundamental dynamic in this process lies squarely in the hands of the artist.

A quite-different paradigm has its roots not in confrontation or consultation but in active collaboration between the artist and sitter. This very different kind of relationship was formulated most vividly by William Hazlitt in his essay entitled "Sitting for One's Picture" (1823). To Hazlitt, the "bond of connection" between painter and sitter is most like the relationship between two lovers. Hazlitt fleshes out his thesis by recalling the career of Sir Joshua Reynolds. According to Hazlitt, Reynold's sitters were meant to enjoy an atmosphere that was both comfortable for them and conducive to the enterprise of the portrait painter, who was simultaneously their host and their contractual employee. In the case of artists like Reynolds, no fundamental difference exists between the artist's studio and all those other rooms in which the sitters spin out the days of their lives. The act of entering Reynold's studio -- this social and aesthetic encounter -- did not necessarily transform those who sat for him. Collaboration in portraiture such as Reynolds' is based on the sitter's comfort and security as well as on his or her desire to experiment with something new; and it is in this "creation of another self," as Hazlitt put it, that the painter's subjects may properly see themselves for the first time.

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