By Jacob Dreschin
The report of a likeness and the revelation of character are the two principal goals of the portrait photographer, in the opinion of Fred Stein, whose one-man show of 126 portraits of outstanding personalities, “Creative Minds,” is currently on view at the Hudson Park Branch of the New York Public Library, 10 Seventh Avenue South, where it will hang through October. The gallery is open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays and 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Fridays.
Both purposes must be achieved in the successful portrait, he explains, since full recognition of a person is not in the exterior identity alone, but is elaborated and made convincing by some visible element of individuality. The photographer is therefore alert to attitude, gesture and expression and snaps the shutter at the critical moment when these signs all blend together to describe the inner personality.
Since the same gesture or other mannerism may mean different things with different people, perhaps sincerity in one case and affectation in another, even awkwardness and naturalness, the true portrait is the result mainly of the competent photographer’s knowledge of the person. Mr. Steinís approach to this problem is simplified by the fact that most of his subjects are people in the news.
Knowing the Subject
He already knows a good deal about them through their reputation and their works, and in consequence has preconceived ideas, which help in making quick decisions. With people he does not know, he tries to draw them out through conversation, noting the various ways in which they react, and selecting those which appear to describe the personality most succinctly.
“One moment is all you have,” Mr. Stein points out. “Like a hunter in search of a target, you look for the one sign that is more characteristic than all the others. The job is to sum up what a man is, according to your understanding of him.The painter has the advantage here, since he can work toward this objective through several leisurely sessions; the photographer has only one, and that one as brief as a split second.”
Intuition plays an important role in portraiture, Mr. Stein finds, and his first impression is usually the most accurate and satisfactory. Where there is time and opportunity, he tries to improve his understanding of a person by establishing some sort of contact with him, but where this is not possible he looks for other things than serious character revelation, such as a novel or exciting movement or expression, working journalistically in the candid manner.
Photographing people is a kind of hobby with Mr. Stein, he says, particularly enjoyable since he does not work for the subjects personally, in which case he “would be obliged to please them,” but can interpret freely. Most of this freelance photographerís portraits are used in magazines and newspapers and appear on book jackets.