Old technologies, new faces

Hello All,

This story from Esquire magazine showed up in my Facebook feed this morning:


Photographer Victoria Will has used the tintype photographic process — common in the latter part of the 1800s — to make a series of portraits of celebrities attending the Sundance Film Festival. (For a video on the tintype photographic process, watch this: http://vimeo.com/34579312). On Monday in class we’ll be talking about different ways of interpreting photographs. What would Roland Barthes say about these portraits? How does the style produced by the tintype process change our perception of contemporary celebrities? Personally, I like the ones portraying William H. Macy, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, and Nick Cave. The detailed way that Macy’s facial features and hair make him stand out from the background, giving the image a kind of three-dimensionality that the others don’t have. I also like the disturbed psychological quality of Hoffman’s portrait. His disheveled hair and clothes are complemented by the scratches and smudges on the surface of the picture. In Nick Cave’s picture, I like the low, off-center framing of his face and body. It seems appropriate to use a nineteenth-century medium to render his Gothic black hair and facial features.

Which portraits do you like best? How do their formal qualities (surface texture, color, shape, line, composition) express particular meanings? Comment below, or think about these questions and we’ll talk about them on Monday. Have a good weekend!




  1. my favorite portrait is Sam Shepard, I like the position of his head in relation to the way his hair flows out of the “normal position” of ones hair. its almost reminds me of a fire, the way it looks. I also like how the white of his hair is much like the border of the portrait and the lines in his jacket.

  2. My favorite portrait is Anne Hathaway. The look in her eyes seems painful and haunted, which I think is emphasized by the white smudges and smears going across her face. It is like she is trapped in this invisible cage that only the photograph captured.

    1. I’m intrigued by your observation that Anne Hathaway seems “trapped in this invisible cage.” What formal elements lead you to that conclusion? Is it the way her shoulders fill the frame or the way the white streaks horizontally across the surface of the image?

  3. My favorite is the one of Maggie Gyllenhaal because she is a modern figure, yet I think she fits perfectly into this aged photography. Her face is a sort of blank/pained stare which I feel also fits well into the image. Overall it’s a beautiful portrait!

    1. Kayla, I agree that Maggie Gyllenhaal’s style seems to suit the older photographic technique. Her haircut seems like it’s from the 1920s. Also interesting is the way that certain parts of the photo — the cable knit of her sweater, her mouth, and neck — are in focus while others — her eyes and right ear — are blurry.

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