March 17, 2023

From Self-Portraiture to Snapshots: A History of Portrait Photography

By Morkven

Portrait photography is a fascinating subject that captures human expressions and emotions through the lens of a camera. It is a genre of photography that has undergone a significant transformation since its inception, from classical self-portraits to candid snapshots.

Self-portraiture has been an integral part of portrait photography since the early days of the medium. In the early 19th century, it was common for artists and photographers to capture their own likeness. The process of self-portraiture was not only a means of self-expression but also a way of showcasing their skills and techniques to the world.

One of the most famous self-portraits was taken by the American photographer Robert Cornelius in 1839, which is considered to be the first portrait photograph ever taken. Cornelius was fascinated by the technology of the camera, so he set up his camera outside his family’s lamp store in Philadelphia and took a picture of himself.

As photography became more accessible and affordable, people began to request portrait sessions from photographers. They saw portrait photography as a way to capture memories and preserve a moment in time. The photographer would set up a studio, and the subject would pose for their portrait.

During the 20th century, there was a significant shift in portrait photography. With the advent of the camera, people began taking candid snapshots of themselves and each other. This new form of photography revolutionized the way people viewed their lives and the world around them.

One of the most famous examples of candid portraiture is the work of street photographer Vivian Maier. Maier spent most of her life working as a nanny, but in her spare time, she took thousands of photographs on the streets of Chicago and New York City. Her work was discovered by chance in 2007, two years before her death, and is now regarded as some of the most important street photography of the 20th century.

The emergence of social media platforms such as Instagram and Facebook has transformed the landscape of portrait photography even further. People now take and share thousands of photos every day, from stylized selfies to candid snaps of their friends and family.

In recent years, there has been a growing trend in portrait photography towards authenticity and diversity. Photographers are now seeking to capture the essence of their subjects, rather than presenting them in a highly stylized way. They are using their cameras to tell stories and to create a connection between the subject and the viewer.

One of the most notable examples of this is the work of portrait photographer Annie Leibovitz. Leibovitz’s portraits are known for their raw and honest portrayal of her subjects. She has photographed many of the world’s most influential people, including politicians, actors, and musicians.

In conclusion, the history of portrait photography is a rich and fascinating subject that has undergone a significant transformation over the years. From self-portraiture to candid snapshots, photographers have used their cameras to capture the world around them and to immortalize moments in time. As we enter the age of social media, the medium of portrait photography continues to evolve, but its importance remains undiminished.