Three carte de visite portraits from New Zealand

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Monday 1 October 2012
Ron Brownson

In New Zealand, it is uncommon to encounter carte de visite portraits of the same person taken about a year apart. Here are three images of the same man which show how the photographer has altered the way he has asked a person to pose in order to reflect his growing maturity. Look at how body language is controlled by the photographer. It shifts from seated shyness to standing authority.

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Little analysis has occurred in our photo-history that discusses how 19th century photographers contrasted how their sitters sat or stood. In theatre, we call such arrangements the mise en scène, which describes the situation of a planned event, what the surrounding scenery is and the properties of the encounter. Good photographers limited the material in their studio to props that looked like they could be from a home while also adding sculptural plinths et alia.

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Note how the lighting is uniformly from the left, which to my way of thinking suggests a north facing side window rather than a top light. It is obvious that the earliest image of the seated young man is taken at other premises. With the silk bookmark, I wonder whether the book he holds is not a Holy Bible. Certainly, the double ink well suggests that he is a student. From all of his attire it is obvious that he comes from a family of means.

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