Part One – Origins of Photographic Portraiture

Project 1: Historic Portraiture

“The portrait is a sign whose purpose is both the description of an individual and the inscription of social identity.” (Tagg, 1988, p37)

According to psychological theory, social identity refers to “the perception of oneself and others based on the social groups that they belong to. It relates to how one relates to a certain social group, and how that relation determines the way the person behaves towards other individuals in the same or different social group.” [accessed 9th March 2020].

I propose that Tagg is stating that a portrait can both absolutely and objectively describe the person, thereby encapsulating their identity, and at the same time describe the identity of a person through alignment with social norms.

“We should distinguish between the two by calling ‘the past’ everything that has happened before and calling ‘historiography’ everything that has been written about the past.” (Jenkins, 1991, p7)

As only the better off could afford to have their portrait taken in the early years of photography, the evidence of historical portraits skews one’s view of what the past was like. It is nothing more than a specific segment of society.

In the early years a portrait was a symbol of status. The rising classes could imitate the already wealthy, demonstrating their ascent through the ranks by having a portrait taken.

The Photomaton, now commonly called the Photo Booth, invented by Anatol Marco Josepho in 1926, automated the process of taking photographic portraits, democratising photography and has been influential in the demise of the high street studio. Julio Margaret Cameron (1815-1879) was a British photographer considered to be one of the most significant portraitists of the 20th century.

Cameron started photography late, having been given a camera at the age of 48. The National Portrait Gallery notes that Cameron became passionate, almost obsessive about portrait photography. Within the space of a decade, Cameron hundreds of portraits of eminent figures of the Victorian age and her servants and friends. “Her remarkable photographs are recognised today as being decades ahead of their time… Cameron’s portraits of the great figures of Victorian art, literature, and science have become the definitive representations of them today.” [accessed 9th March 2020].

Cameron was also one of the first photographers to state that she had psychological intentions (Angier, 2015, p. 14). In her journal, she wrote that she sought to capture the greatness of the inner, not the outer man in the photographs she took of prominent Victorian individuals. Angier also notes that Cameron was more interested in metaphor than in description, and she would have a technician remove some of the elements from her camera lens to reduce resolution.

According to a website dedicated to Emil Otto Hoppé (1878-1972), Hoppe “was one of the most important art and documentary photographers of the modern era whose artistic success rivalled those of his peers, Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946), Edward Steichen (1879-1973) and Walker Evans (1903-1975).” [accessed 10th March 2020]

Hoppé was one of the most renowned portrait photographers of his day, as well as a landscape and travel photographer. His modernist portraits of important personalities included George Bernard Shaw, H.G. Wells, A.A. Milne, T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, G.K. Chesterton, Leon Bakst, Vaslav Nijinsky and the dancers of the Ballets Russes, and Queen Mary, King George, and other members of the Royal Family.

By a simple accident of fate, this major figure in photography became almost unknown. In 1954, well before most of the photographic histories were written, Hoppé was nearing the end of his career, he decided to sell his photographic work to a London picture library. Here, after being filed by subject in with millions of other “stock” pictures, the Hoppé photographs were no longer accessible by author. Most of Hoppé’s photographic work effectively became entombed.

In the mid-1990s the Hoppé Collection was extracted from the London picture library by the Pasadena, California, based museum services company, Curatorial Assistance, Inc., where it underwent over a decade of organizing, cataloguing, conservation and digitizing so as to fully assess the measure of its contents. Following access to the library, there is a concensus that Hoppé is a missing link in early photo-modernism that connects the better known American innovators to the lesser known photo-pioneers of Britain and Europe where Hoppé was the leading figure.

Exercise 1 – Historic Portrait

According to the Tate: “Portraiture is a very old art form going back at least to ancient Egypt, where it flourished from about 5,000 years ago. Before the invention of photography, a painted, sculpted, or drawn portrait was the only way to record the appearance of someone.

But portraits have always been more than just a record. They have been used to show the power, importance, virtue, beauty, wealth, taste, learning or other qualities of the sitter. Portraits have almost always been flattering, and painters who refused to flatter, such as William Hogarth, tended to find their work rejected. A notable exception was Francisco Goya in his apparently bluntly truthful portraits of the Spanish royal family…At the same time (as Picasso), photography became the most important medium of traditional portraiture, bringing what was formerly an expensive luxury product affordable for almost everyone.” [accessed 11th March 2020]

“Testaments of portraiture as a genre can be seen as early as Ancient Egyptian wall paintings of gods and pharaohs.

Ancient Greeks also had fascination with portraiture, mostly in its sculpted form, representing both gods and lay people (who through art were elevated to the status of a deity).  Romans followed a similar tradition borrowing motifs from Ancient Egypt and Greece and developing a flair for portrait busts of key power personalities. Ancient Greek and Romans were also the ones who started the tradition of depicting figure-heads on coins. During the Middles ages portraiture declined and was strictly confined to donor portraits.

The Renaissance saw the re-invention of portraiture in its modern sense and is a pivotal moment in the history of the genre. Predominately portraying royals, nobles, and religious figures, Renaissance portraits concentrated on the status and personality of the sitter through the depiction of objects of characterisation (such as a globe for a well travelled sitter).

Italian painters dominated at the time while the Baroque and Rococo periods saw the predominance of Flemish and Spanish artists. In Britain the early to mid 18th century saw the rise of artists such as Sir Joshua Reynolds with historical portraiture while later on in the 1800s Pre-Raphaelites became the dominant force.

The 19th and early 20th century are characterised by a multiplicity of art movements from the pre- realism, to impressionism, to cubism. Portraits during these times opened up to include the bourgeoisie and many times to include the immediate circle of artists, as well as nameless models.  In the mid 20th century pop art developed a fascination for celebrity portraits, with Andy Warhol as its master, which has continued to the present day. From the ‘60s onwards photography takes over portraiture by the storm, due to its immediacy, developing many different trends.” [accessed 11th March 2020]

According to David Bate, the early industry of photography was dominated by the development of commercial studio portraiture, which popularized photography. Especially in cities, there was a seemingly inexhaustible demand for “likenesses” or portraits. (Bate, 2018, p. 82). As a result there was a massive decline in the miniature portrait painting industry. As a result of the photographic revolution, having one’s portrait taken was democratized.

Felix Nadar, Sarah Bernhardt, 1865

I have chosen a portrait by Felix Nadar (Gaspard-Félix Tournachon). “Nadar’s success was not due solely to his studio being transformed into a social hotspot; he also possessed serious chops as a portrait photographer. His studio settings were well lit, employing strong side lighting, and simple backgrounds that emphasized the subject’s face. He accentuated this with a patented process to fade out the image edges to a low contrast, the use of dark clothing, and hiding the subject hands, all with the aim of focusing the viewer’s attention on the subject’s face. In 1858, he was the first to experiment with battery-powered electric lamps for studio lighting. After much trial and error, he developed techniques for the use of directed lighting, diffusers, and reflectors for effect, achieving the Rembrandt-style lighting still popular today. The last element of Nadar’s success was the relationship he cultivated with the subject. Nadar invited his portrait models to a comfortable studio setting, and engaged each client with a relaxed personal rapport. His boundless energy and enthusiasm, sense of humor, and attention to the client supported a photographic style that subtly included the subject as an intimate and collaborative partner in creating a great image. In his own words, ‘What can [not] be learned… is the moral intelligence of your subject; it’s the swift tact that puts you in communion with the model, makes you size him up, grasp his habits and ideas in accordance with his character, and allows you to render, not an indifferent plastic reproduction that could be made by the lowliest laboratory worker, commonplace and accidental, but the resemblance that is most familiar and most favorable, the intimate resemblance. It’s the psychological side of photography—the word doesn’t seem overly ambitious to me.’” [accessed 11th March 2020]

Nadar’s portrait is of Sarah Bernhardt (1844-1923) an actress, singer and theatre director. Her voice and acting skills were considered extraordinary. In 1896, Bernhardt played the title role in Alfred de Musset’s Lorenzaccio, in the Théâtre de la Renaissance, performing the part at the age of 52. Her performance was declared by the critics to be “from beginning to end, and at every moment, incomparably sublime.”

Nadar’s portrayal is of a beautiful woman, dressed apparently in some renaissance type garment. Her hair is lustrous and dark as are her eyes. She is fully covered apart from her head and her neck, though the visible neck and face betray her physique as being slim. She appears bored; perhaps her sitting has been long, or she is used to her portrait being taken. She looks aloof and has an intelligent appearance. Judging by the quality of production, especially in that time, one can guess that she was fed up. She is not looking at the camera, and presumably not at Nadar. Was she instructed not too? On further inspection, the garment could easily be a stage curtain; it is frayed at the edge and has tassels.

The photograph was taken in 1865 in Nadar’s studio. By accounts, Nadar had sophisticated control over his use of natural and artificial lighting, and this is apparent in the photograph. The lighting enhances the physical structure of Bernhardt herself but also the many folds of her garment. The lighting also provided highlights to add to the interest. The quality of the lighting is sophisticated for the time.

The photograph was probably used for publicity of Bernhardt rather than as an artistic outlet for Nadar, though he obviously had a passion for his work.

Project 2: Typologies


1. The systematic classification of types or study of types.

2. The doctrine or study of types or prefigurative symbols, especially in scriptural literature.

Oxford English Dictionary

A typology is a conceptual system that partitions a specified field of entities into a comprehensive set of types. The typologist can define the types for their own purposes, on condition that they are mutually exclusive.

A typology may be assembled through observation, collection, naming and grouping.

Typology can often seem to show more about difference than similarity but, by bringing together the members of a similar class, the photographer implies, and seeks to identify, a common essence. Typology is therefore an act of attribution as opposed to classification, which is simply a process of definition.

German photographer August Sander (1876–1964) is a very important figure within the history of photographic portraiture. He was active during the Weimar Republic between the two World Wars and attempted the classification of the entire German social system through portraiture, based upon the hierarchical medieval guild system.The Art Story’s biography notes that “August Sander is acclaimed for a life-long undertaking known as People of the Twentieth Century. Though it was realized as one single volume only posthumously (through the efforts of his son) his career-defining mission gave rise to the greatest portrait collection of the 20th century. Sander’s goal was to produce a comprehensive photo-sociological document of the cross-section – from land workers to factory workers; to artistic and professional elites; to the frail and the elderly – of German society as it unravelled during his own lifetime. Despite the emergence of the new, faster and more mobile, 35MM Leica camera, Sander remained steadfast in his commitment to the heavy large-format camera that used glass negatives and demanded long exposure times. For him the greater detail offered by the latter format far outweighed the benefits of the former. Sander represented all his sitters, whom he identified, not by name, but by occupation or type, with a respectful and unadorned neutrality, and always within their familiar surroundings…

…Ranked as one of the greatest socio-historical documentarians, Sander’s oeuvre is typically defined by its homogeneity and the sheer scale of its ambition. Rejecting all forms of expressionism and romanticism, Sander’s portraiture is associated with the rise of the New Objectivity (Neue Sachlichkeit) movement that gained momentum in German artistic circles during the inter-war years. However, that observation, though quite correct, rather belies the fresh artistic and humanist quality Sander brought to photographic portraiture that had been defined hitherto in its relationship to painting, and by the way it ‘described’ its subject with the help of flattering backdrops and secondary objects (or ‘props’).

Sander opposed the traditional (some would say ‘bourgeois’) style of studio portraiture that tried to imitate painting. He favored the glossy paper format used in technical photographs because it offered him the greatest image detail, and even though that preference necessitated the use of cumbersome large plate cameras, Sander remained committed to taking portrait photography out of the studio into the real world. Shooting always from a single perspective – face-to-face as it were – he considered the relationship between location and sitter to be the most essential ingredient for communicating both the status and essence of his or her personality.” [accessed 17th March 2020]

August Sander, Young Farmers, 1914

Exercise 2: Background as Context

August Sander, Bricklayer’s Mate, 1928

The photograph above is typical of the portraits taken by Sander. The subjects are clothed in the work attire generally, though the young farmers are in their go to church best. The subjects face the camera, and often stand with their body square to the camera. Their expressions are serious. The props are limited to tools of the trade and not unexpected or surprising. There are exceptions to the above of course. His subjects are pictured in their natural environment rather than a contrived environment or studio. David Bate, which includes:

David Bate’s five-point model can be used to describe portraits. Four of the five elements are:

The Face: This can be used to illustrate the feelings of the sitter, given that facial expression can signify a repertoire of different states and moods including happiness, sadness, anger or frustration. It should be noted however that the expressions worn by the face are not necessarily indicative of a fixed state of being.

The Pose: Can be described as a visual argument in itself, or a form of rhetoric. The various body language conveyed by a sitter can be read in combination and can connote all kinds of perceived characteristics. Just as the expression of the face is the rhetoric of mood, so the pose contributes to the signification of character, attitude and social position.

The Clothing: Can be used to indicate a great deal about a sitter’s social identity and how they relate to that identity in their pose. Uniform’s for instance can not only differentiate a factory worker from a police officer, but can also specifically identify rank and the different regiments within the armed services.

The Prop: Can significantly alter the meaning given to the identity of the portrayed figure.

Sander has used a shallow depth of field to produce a blurred background, which enhances focus on the subject. The subject is placed in front of a background which reflects the place of work or sometimes the nature of the person being photographed. There are cases where it is just a white studio background. There are examples of on location shots where the subject’s head is below and above the horizon.

Exercise: Make a portrait of someone you know, paying very close attention to what is happening in the background of the shot. Be very particular about how you pose the subject and what you choose to include in the photograph. Ideally, the background should tell the viewer something about the subject being photographed. Reflect upon how successful this project was in your learning log or blog, discussing specifically what your intentions were in terms of the background you chose in your image.

This is a portrait of my daughter. I have placed her at her current usual place of study. The background and foreground is as out of focus as I can make it with the equipment and location. The background is our home which provides a clue to the relationship to me. The props are her usual apparatus for study. I have used flash for fill-in lighting. I am reasonably content with the result.

The portraits of Diane Arbus (1923–71) and Robert Mapplethorpe (1946–89) deal explicitly with identity. Arbus was particularly interested in the relationship between the subject of the portrait and the photographer, whilst trying to investigate the nature of ‘identity’. Her subjects tended to be people operating within the margins of society, people that might be considered ‘different’ or ‘unique’, or in her words ‘singular’. Her work was informed by that of Sander before her and she likened her approach to photography to ‘gathering a butterfly collection’.

“Arbus found intrigue and conjured beauty in unlikely subjects, and made remarkable portraits of people that were not often deemed “fit” to be in front of the lens of a camera. She sought out unique characters on the fringes of society for her work, and said to this, “I really believe there are things nobody would see if I didn’t photograph them.” This went a long way from the art that is often thought to be reserved only for the aesthetically pleasing, as opposed to showing the “real” or “true” world. The idea of personal identity as socially constructed is one that Arbus came back to, whether it be performers, women and men wearing makeup, or a literal mask obstructing one’s face. Critics have speculated that the choices in her subjects were a reflection of her own identity issues, for she said that the only thing she suffered from as a child was never having felt adversity. This evolved into a longing for things that money couldn’t buy such as experiences in the underground social world. She is often praised for her sympathy for these subjects, a quality which is not immediately understood through the images themselves, but through her writing and the testimonies of the men and women she portrayed.” [accessed 18th March 2020]

Diane Arbus, Roberta Cucchiaro

According to Angier (Angier, 2015, p. 143) Arbus’s work is grounded in a kind of typological thinking reminiscent of Sandler. Arbus appeared to be interested in portraying ethnic types and social types. Due to her use of on-camera flash, her approach is clinical and unsentimental. Her face-to-face encounter is not compassionate contemplation, but a collision (p144).

Mapplethorpe’s portraits span from celebrity culture through to underground bondage and sadomasochistic scene in New York during the late 1960s to 1970s. Some of his portraiture and still-life work was considered homoerotic, explicit and remains both then and now controversial.

Robert Mapplethorpe, Beauty and the Devil

The Museo Madre’s biography of Douglas Huebler (Ann Arbor, Michigan 1924 – Cape Cod, Massachusetts 1997) cites that Huebler “began his career as a sculptor in the early sixties with minimalist works that included forms of interaction with the viewer. Late in the decade, however, the artist abandoned the language of sculpture and gradually turned towards an increasingly immaterial art that called into question the traditional status of the art object.

In January 1969 he participated in the exhibition titled January 5-31, 1969 organized by Seth Siegelaub at a temporary venue in New York. The exhibition (whose title indicated its duration) also presented works by Robert Barry, Joseph Kosuth and Lawrence Wiener, was one of the key events in the history of Conceptual Art in America. On that occasion, Huebler published a statement in the exhibition catalog that was to become emblematic of an era and a new way of conceiving art apart from its physical manifestation: “The world is full of objects, more or less interesting; I do not wish to add any more. I prefer, simply, to state the existence of things in terms of time and/or place.” This declaration was enlightening, not only to understanding the intention behind the works by the artist at that time but, more generally, to interpret the works Huebler would produce in subsequent years, including the series of Duration Pieces and Variable Pieces.

The Duration Pieces are works usually made up of several panels of photographs and texts that interact with each other. The photographs are taken in a given time sequence or in keeping with a very simple predetermined rule, such as shots taken always in the same direction every time the artist heard a bird chirping. In this way the Duration Pieces thematize not only the relation between photography, a specific place and points of time but call into question the very concept of authorship, opening up the creative process to the variables of chance and interaction with reality.

The Variable Pieces project, however, is not only the most ambitious one created by the artist but also the one that most radically testifies to the utopian tension animating Huebler’s work. Produced in 1971 as a work in progress and continued for ten years, the project consisted of the attempt (practically impossible) to document the existence of every living human being with a series of photographic grids accompanied by texts. After commenting on the relation between the mutability of human and mechanical recording, this series of works also engaged in a form of collaboration in depth between the artist and the work’s different owners who followed each other in time.” [accessed 19th March 2020]

Extract from course text:

“Huebler took 10 portraits of the photographer Bernd Becher (himself a noted typologist) showing a sequence of deliberate poses Becher was asked to perform (priest, criminal, lover, old man, policeman, artist, Bernd Becher, philosopher, spy, nice guy). A few months after the portraits had been taken, Huebler forwarded them to Becher and asked him to make the correct associations. The two different sequences are then presented to the viewer, the captions determined first by the photographer (Huebler) and second by the subject (Becher). Where these images are presented will determine what order they will be seen in. This typology of the typologist (Becher) therefore uses the photographic caption (normally used in a supportive role) deliberately to create confusion when reading the work.”

Douglas Huebler, Variable Piece #101, 1972

“Nearly a century after August Sander’s portraits of German society, the Ukrainian photographer Boris Mikhailov created a series of pictures of the amateur actors in a German theatre company in the town of Braunschweig. Shot in profile against a black background, the photographer makes reference not only to Sander’s typological study but also to Theodor Piderit’s Principles of Mimic and Physiognomy, published in Braunschweig in 1858 and also to Hitler’s interest in eugenics; Hitler became a German citizen in Braunschweig in 1932. The profile portrait also encourages the viewer to make formal comparisons between the sitters. Mikhailov’s portraits and those of August Sander were exhibited together in 2012.”

Boris Mikhailov, 2012 [accessed 24th March 20]

“Sander influenced generations of photographers, among them the married couple Bernd and Hilla Becher. In the 1950s they began documenting rundown and disappearing industrial architecture – blast furnaces, water towers, foundries. Their work can be seen as a type of industrial archaeology. Presenting the work in a straightforward grid format, each picture was taken under a uniform grey sky at the same time of day, from the same distance and angle – allowing the images to be easily compared and classified. The Bechers endeavored to make dispassionate, objective images. Like Sander before them, the Bechers influenced large numbers of contemporary artists and photographers – Thomas Demand, Candida Hofer, Thomas Struth, Thomas Ruff and Andreas Gursky – who follow their lead in employing a detached documentary style in their work.”

Bernd and Hilla Becher [accessed 24th March 2020]

“Where do ideas come from? How about through collecting, sorting, classifying. That’s one way to begin. It is an organized method of investigation used in the sciences and the arts. In the field of archeology the exploration of the similarities and differences among the same type of object is called a typology. This same methodology is popular among artists, especially those using photographic processes.

A typology is a collection of a single type or class, with the collection itself being more important than the individual components. According to Marc Freidus, “A typology is assembled by observation, collection, naming and grouping. These actions allow the members of the class to be compared, usually in search of broader patterns.”

Typologies appear to be objective – finding specific items that fit a clearly defined category – but of course, someone has to create that category in the first place, which can be seen as an act of invention. It is here that the artistic mind is located. Stylistically, these typologies try to remove the unique “artist’s hand,” and this may be the reason they are found more in photographic work than in painting or sculpture.

The ability to compare the similarities and differences between the components of a typology is important and for this reason artists often use a grid, book format or a linear layout in a contained space (such as a gallery) to aid in this analysis.” [accessed 24th March 2020]

Exercise 3: Portrait Typology

There are many possible ways of classifying portraits, for example:

  1. By facial expression
  2. By eye direction
  3. By body direction
  4. By % of body
  5. Background type
  6. Occupation

I have chosen to classify portraits by actor type, taking my artistic cue from Huebler, but using different actors for the different types – serious thespian, young and moody, action man, thespian in a contemporary role, breaking the mould, cutting wit, charming and funny, comedic soap, martial artist. The individual photographs have been selected from an image search on Bing. The resulting images and collection are objective and dispassionate.

Portrait Typology

Project 3: Portraiture and the Archive

Extract from the text: “Most cities within the UK will have contained many resident commercial studio portrait photographers working over several decades. Much of this work still exists in archives looked after by various local authorities and agencies. On occasions, an archive will be extensive, complete and well conserved. Such archives provide an insight both into the technological developments in photography and the social history of an area. Liverpool holds two important portrait archives: the Edward Chambré Hardman (1898–1988) Archive in the Liverpool City Library and the Keith Medley (1915–2004) Archive at Liverpool John Moores University…Medley’s portraits were made between 1965–68 and consisted of twin-exposed 5×4 glass plates, mainly depicting portraits for identity purposes…

The Hardman commercial portraiture archive consists of over 100,000 individual sheet negatives shot between 1923 and 1963. This archive has sat mainly untouched since it was sold to Liverpool Library in 1975 for the sum of £2,000. It consists mainly of half-plate cellulose nitrate sheet negatives, with 400 stored in glassine sleeves, contained in each of the 300 large metal biscuit tins. Accompanying these negatives are 11 studio registers, which contain the names and titles of Hardman’s sitters over his 40-year active period.”

Edward Hardmann, Intermission Series

“Edward Chambré-Hardman (1898-1988) was a Liverpool-based photographer, active between 1923 and 1966, and best known for his portrayals of landscapes and cityscapes. But it was his commercial portraiture that paid the bills…

Photographer and academic Keith Roberts (Head of BA (hons) Photography at St Helens College; PhD candidate with Manchester Metropolitan University) has been given unprecedented access to the Hardman archives and records, initially with a view to re-photograph some of the locations where Hardman had created his most iconic work. This involvement with the archive led Roberts to a more curatorial role, and then to a realisation that the records required digitising into a searchable database. This caused Roberts’ focus to shift from Hardman’s landscape work to the more commercial, portraiture-focussed side of the business.

Thus began the massive task of translating Hardman’s handwritten record books into the substantially less glamorous yet more organised form of an Excel spreadsheet, which now has something in the region of 40,000 separate entries – probably about one third of Hardman’s studio output. Each record has the name of the sitter, a profession (where listed) and, crucially, a reference number identifying the glass negatives of the photographs taken at the sitting. These negatives were all stored by Hardman in metal biscuit tins in less than ideal conditions and, presumably, simply because the tins just happened to be the right size.  The tins are now in the possession of Liverpool Central Library, stored in a freezer with the aim of slowing the deterioration of their contents, some of which have not survived the passage of time.

Once the spreadsheet had been created it could be searched for patterns and, in particular, as far as this exhibition is concerned, for sitters who had been photographed by Hardman more than once. The reference numbers meant the negatives could be identified and retrieved from the archive to be printed, assuming they were in a good enough condition. The images selected by Roberts for Intermissions are all presented as a pair – the same person recorded by Hardman at two different times. It is this gap between sittings that Roberts describes as the “intermission”, hence the title of the exhibition. Presenting the portraits as pairs emphasises the passage of time in the life of the sitter; many of whom witnessed enormous changes in British life, including two World Wars.

The differences between the two portraits of the same person are, in most cases, quite striking — note the difference between man and boy — but there is more to this exhibition than a straightforward comparison of the way a person ages over time.  The very act of putting the images on public display is a shift from Hardman’s original intentions. Hardman did enter his landscape work into exhibitions and salons, but never the commercial portraits. Of course, they were meant to be seen, but the intended audience was the sitter and his or her circle of friends and family.

Now, with a public audience, the pictures take on a new dimension. Apart from the personal copies paid for by the client, they existed only in the archive as a glass plate negative stored in a biscuit tin. This shift in function is deliberate because, although it may not have much impact on the majority of Intermissions visitors, Roberts’ expressed hope that some viewers may recognise, or even be related to, one or more of the sitters. That is precisely what happened on the opening night, when visitor recognised a pair of portraits as being a former next door neighbour.

Another aspect to this shift of function, and one that cannot be avoided, is the recognition by Roberts of his own influence on the curation process. Hardman was very particular about how his images should look when printed – even in the days pre-Photoshop, he would give specific instructions to the printers about his vision for the final print. The details of contrast, light and texture were always controlled by Hardman by written instructions on his proofs.  Now, without that direction, Roberts had to make his own decisions about how the finished print would look.

In addition, he had to choose which of the five or six different plates taken by Hardman at the original sitting would be used for this new exhibition, 28 years after his death. This intrusion into the Hardman workflow is recognised by Roberts, and he acknowledges the questions that may arise about provenance, ownership and the like. Can Intermissions be presented as an exhibition of Hardman’s work at all?

Roberts refers to the pairs of images as creating a triangle, in which the spectator is one point, and each image of the pair are the others. This technique emphasises the time lapse between the two images and highlights the unknown story of the sitter’s life during that period. One can have a guess at what may have happened, especially with the images of service personnel, but others are more benign. Some stories could probably be researched – military records may provide an insight in some cases. Others would be more difficult to discover, unless the subject happens to be known to the viewer.

Intermissions is much more than an exhibition of photography, albeit by one of Liverpool’s best known practitioners. It is a slice of social history taken from a resource that was never intended to be looked at by an arts audience or the wider general public…” [accessed 22nd March 2020]

“E.J. Bellocq was an American photographer known posthumously for his images of prostitutes in New Orleans during the early 20th century. Rather than sexualized pinups, the artist’s portraits show the women at ease amidst their surroundings. “Seeing his pictures we are persuaded that he had knowledge of the nature of other human beings,” John Szarkowski once wrote of the artist. Born John Ernest Joseph Bellocq in 1873 in New Orleans, LA, he had what is thought to have been hydrocephalus, which made him noticeably short with a large and pointed head. By around 1895, Bellocq was working as commercial photographer for various companies taking pictures of ships and landmarks around the city. Bellocq’s candid portraits of women in the Storyville neighborhood of the city, were done secretly during the 1910s. The artist died in 1949 in New Orleans, LA. After his death, Bellocq’s brother stored away his negatives in a junk shop, where they remained until 1958, when a collection of 89 of his glass negatives was discovered. Nearly a decade after their discovery, the acclaimed photographer Lee Friedlander acquired the entire collection. By this time, the plates had suffered a great deal of corrosion but Friedlander still managed to develop prints from them…” [accessed 22nd March 2020]

Angier (Angier, 2015, p. 23) notes that the scratching out of the woman’s face was an intentional and evidently violent act. Was it meant to provide anonymity, was it comment on prostitutes as objects or was it a fetish?

Exercise 4: Archival Intervention

A family has two sides…

My wife and I, like most married couples will produce a future archive for our nuclear family, and our children in turn will do the same. Like us and them our respective parents have done the same in the past. This is an almost inevitable consequence of relationships in the modern age.

Over the past few years we have been passed or discovered (through bereavement) a number of archives which we were previously (largely) unaware. Through receiving these, we have unwittingly collected images that have never been seen together.

I have created a collage above, one of many of many possible permutations. The top row is my wife’s family line, and the bottom row, mine. In the middle column, my wife is the little child, and I am one of the young boys. Other links include mothers on the left, fathers on the right, children in the middle. In both sets, mother and child are on holiday.

Like Kuhn and her mother, I imagine that both mothers would claim ownership of the feelings my wife and I have when looking at the photographs, and even more than that, claim ownership of the feelings we had when the photographs were taken.


Angier, R. (2015). Train Your Gaze. London: Bloomsbury.

Bate, D. (2018). Photography: The Key Concepts. London: Bloomsbury Publishing.

Jenkins, K. (1991). Re-thinking History. London: Routledge.

Tagg, J. (1988). The Burden of Representation: Essays on Photographies and Histories. Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press.