PHOTOGRAPHY MAGAZINE - We Must Boost the Character Portrait Says Stein, of Paris

VOL 4 - NO - 46 June 1936 London

By Stein (Paris)

Should portraitists attempt to educate the public? Should we give them the photographs they want or the photographs we want them to have? I have noticed that many people nowadays prefer enlargements of heads snapped by amateurs in a seaside or garden group. The general belief is that portraits taken under these conditions are thoroughly natural. They are but that is all.

The portraitist today must educate the public in the advantages of the character portrait.

After a certain amount of work among theatrical people I realize that every portrait can tell a story. I know many photographers revolt against the story picture and insist that photography is a pure art; but I don't agree with that view.

Readers may remember a short story by O. Henry which tells of an artist who failed because he was too great an artist; his pictures laid bare the souls of his sitters. I do not suppose the camera can go quite so far as that, but I do believe it can get beneath the surface. A picture of this kind will take a lot of hard work to obtain, but that does not mean that it is unobtainable. Some readers may be surprised to learn that I use a Leica in my studio. Many of my clients have expressed surprise on seeing so small a camera when they are used to large studio apparatus. I have discovered, however, that the Leica is very disarming. Once a client is convinced that the question of size does not enter into the quality of the portrait, it is only up to the photographer to capture the character and the story which each sitter possesses.

It is impossible to put into writing just how this can be done. Perhaps it is a sixth sense; perhaps one can grow or train oneself to it; it depends on the mentality of the photographer. When I pass a man in the street I look for his story. After a certain amount of practice the imagination becomes more supple and a real help to the portraitist. It enables him to get beneath the surface and to do with a camera what O. Henry's artist did with a pen. The fictitious artist failed to convince, or rather to please, the public. This may also be the lot of the photographer. I believe it is worth trying.