Let's Talk About Art: Portrait photography

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Think about how you take photographs of people. You step back from the action, your friends stop to pose. It's all about capturing them in a moment. But is there more there?

"Making portraits really identifies what goes on behind the scenes," says fine art photographer and associate professor Sue Abramson. "Portraits not only tell us who the subjects are, but also the way a person looks versus what they are interested in," she explains. Ms. Abramson is teaching a weeklong art camp that explores the history of photography, called "The Photographic Portrait: Combining 19th- and 21st-Century Techniques." It's part of a new initiative of media intensive camps for teens held at Pittsburgh Filmmakers in Oakland this July.

The camp is designed for high school students, and those who sign up will begin by scanning their own family portraits, turning them into digital negatives. Then the negatives will be printed using historical processes such as Cyanotype (blue) and Van Dyke (brown) tints. Participants get to use real chemicals and paper to create photographic styles they might have seen only with Instagram filters. They'll learn the technology, history and craft that inspired that popular smartphone app.

Later in the week the teens will pair up to shoot portraits of each other using a "pinhole" camera. Just as it sounds, a pinhole camera exposes photo paper through a tiny hole instead of a lens. The exposure takes a few minutes, so students must be patient and sit very still while their picture is taken -- a very similar experience to having your picture taken in the 19th century.

Ms. Abramson looks forward to sharing the old-fashioned processes with young people in a summer camp. "With historical photographic processes, you don't have as much control, but then, there's more room for happy accidents and visual surprises. And that can be great fun."

The camp concludes with a modern studio shoot, where students light and compose portraits of their classmates. In the digital shoot students will return to the fast and instant photography we've all grown accustomed to, but with a new awareness cultivated over the week.

The weeklong camp runs July 16-20, from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. To learn more about this or other art camps, call 412-361-0455 or visit pittsburgharts.org.

-- By Jessica Futrell for PF/PCA

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This is a biweekly series about art and artists in the region. Pittsburgh Filmmakers/Pittsburgh Center for the Arts serves the community through arts education, exhibitions and artist resources.


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