Brief 3 – Portraits

Portrait Photography:

Portrait photography is one of the most common forms of photography. These photographs generally consist of a person or a group of people where facial features and expressions are made prominent. Most photographers aim to capture personality and emotion in their images which requires more than just having good technical skills to achieve this.

Richard Avedon is an American photographer best known for his work in fashion as well as minimalistic portraits. Over his career, Avedon has photographed many famous faces such as Elizabeth Taylor, Andy Warhol, Malcolm X and more.

“I think the reason why his portraiture is so powerful is that it subverts, undermines or shifts that public sense of ‘knowing’ someone.” – Richard Avedon


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One of Avedon’s most famous portraits is of Marilyn Monroe. During his shoot with Monroe, Avedon encourages her to express herself as he does with many people he photographs. The photographs reveal a joyful and outgoing Marilyn, an extremely common and predictable way of how she is presented to the world. Then, towards the end of the shoot, after hours of Marilyn dancing, singing and laughing, she begins to tire, and sits in the corner of the studio, exhausted, sitting quietly without much expression on her face at all. Avedon describes her at this point as ‘like a child’. He then approached her with his camera and takes her picture which is shown below. No one had ever seen Marilyn Monroe outside her performance to the world that she has created which is why the photograph is so famous.

Marilyn Richard Avedon marilyn

Avedon’s photographs are predominantly black and white with a minimalist style which allows the viewer to give more focus towards the subject in the photograph. The facial expressions and emotions in his work are very prominent and unique to each person he captures in his photographs.

The Self Portrait:

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For my self portrait, I wanted to recreate Marilyn Monroe’s portrait by Avedon slightly by showing an exhausted and tired face, with little energy. I also half lit the face to show some definition on the facial features however unlike Avedon’s image of Marilyn, I wanted a darker, more dramatic shadow on the side of my face.

Portrait of a friend:

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I took this picture of my friend in front of a large glass window which gave some good natural lighting, with a slight shadow on the face showing some definition. I also liked the background in this image because of the stairs on the top left showing an interesting shape and the peach coloured walls also drew my attention. Before I took this image I told my friend to look outside at a person walking by and then I very quickly took the shot.

Portrait of a stranger:

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This is a stranger I met when I was round a friends house. I had only just met her when I took this photo so her expression is quite reserved, not showing much true emotion which I found very interesting, much like the beginning photo. This subverts Richard Avedon’s work in a way as in his work it is clear that he always tries to capture interesting emotions that represent the person well. However, in this image I wanted to show the awkward moment in the image, as it can show a lot about how a person presents them self when confronted with new people.



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