Week 4 Independent Reflection,The Deadpan Face

As my project develops I have moved into the realm of portrait photography which I have found interesting and is useful in a way that this style of work provides the opportunities to both experiment and open a new direction for my work. Having little understanding about the approach, I have engaged in further reading about the portrait photograph to understand the conventions and why they are so interesting. Cotton argues that ‘The adoption of a deadpan aesthetic moves art photography outside the hyperbolic, sentimental and subjective’ (2020, p. 27). This idea serves as a useful starting point for my research in addition to a way to develop my project. In doing this in practice I found that my ability to approach a subject and ask them to be in a photograph has been quite successful however in the making of photographs the ability to achieve the deadpan face requires more attention to detail than first anticipated.

In engaging with the portrait technique to date I have often encountered subjects not smiling but at the same time showing their teeth. I feel that this has lessened the objectivity of my work by providing an insight into the personality of the subject. Having said this I have still created work that moves the viewer whilst at the same time I am aware that any type of gesture may invite the viewer to make judgements as Bate argues against when he purports that the purpose of surface depth in photography intentionally leaves the spectator out of the equation (2009, P.70). My interpretation here relating to the idea of gestures relates to Bate in the way that the hint of emotion and personality requires the spectator to do less with the photograph in a psychological sense as a gesture provides the stimuli to subjectively provoke the spectator in making assumptions about the subjects.

When researching the work of Céline van Balen the use of the deadpan face offers an immersive intrigue into her subjects. Together with the eyes and other facial features including the tight crops she uses represents an interesting approach to further my project. In reviewing my own work I will work further in achieving the deadpan face in order to enable the spectator to engage with subjects and have to work harder to decode (Hall, 1999) the images.

Further research:

Andreas Gursky | August Sander | Albert Renger-Patsch. (New objevtivity)

BATE, D (2009) Photography, The Key Concepts. Oxford, Berg.


HALL, S. (1999) ‘Encoding, Decoding’ in The Cultural Studies Reader. London, Routledge.

Website: http://www.artnet.com/artists/céline-van-balen/

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