Documentary and Interpretive Portraiture

There are several mediums available in which portraits may be created. Most common among these are Photography, Painting, and Sculpture. By far the most popular is Photographic Portraiture. Since Portrait Photography is my particular area of expertise, this article will apply primarily to photographic application.
In Photographic Portraiture there are two primary genres: Interpretive and Documentary. Within these genres there are many types and styles. Types include what I call design parameters such as: Headshots, Full Length, Couples, Baby, high school Seniors, Engagement, Family, Maternity, and so forth.
Styles are really an individual distinction defined by the artists creating the portraits. Black and white and "colorized" black and white can be considered styles, and certainly when an artist works exclusively in one or both of those categories it would be considered their 'style'. However more often, a portrait artist's style is defined by their use of lighting and composition such that when a person views a work they will identify it with the artist by it's distinctive look or style.
By far the most dominant genre of photographic portraiture is that of Documentary. Documentary portraits are in the most elementary way described as portraits where the subjects are looking directly at the camera and smiling. It is the simplest and easiest, (except in the case of two-year-olds), kind of portrait to create.
Pretty much every type of portrait may be made as a Documentary portrait. That is, from family portraits to professional 'headshot' portraits, to Senior portraits, to Maternity, to Baby portraits, all may be created in a Documentary way with the subject looking at the camera and smiling.
Documentary type portraits, while not terrifically creative, are very useful for many applications. Business portraits for example are typically Documentary. It is the type of portraiture all the "Big Box" and "Mall" studios specialize in. And when a parent takes their children to have portraits made two or three times a year, the "Mall" studios are convenient and economical.
Interpretive Portraits, while posed to a certain degree have a much more candid appearance. As indicated by the classification "Interpretive", this type of portrait has the ability to display and reveal the personality and interests of the subject to a much greater degree than Documentary portraits. Often the subject will be engaged in some activity rather than looking into the camera lens and smiling. That is not to say that an Interpretive Portrait precludes the subject from looking at the camera and smiling. However that is just much less likely in an Interpretive portrait.
Many of the paintings of famous artists such as Titian, Renoir, Degas, Lautrec, even da Vinci and Rembrandt and many others were actually Interpretive Portraits. While those paintings are generally viewed as slices of contemporary life, there really is no limitation to the creative possibilities with Interpretive Portraiture.
The creative possibilities are limitless, but creating a successful Interpretive Portrait places a great deal of additional responsibility on the artist. As with all commissioned art, the patron or client must be satisfied with the portrait, so the interpretation rendered by the artist must meet their criteria. To that end the artist must have at least some acquaintance with the subject and their personality.
The desired mood portrayed by the portrait will require forethought and planning. What poses will best display the personality and mood? What props and activity will best suit the subject, their personality and interests? Then the location and the lighting must be considered.
As with all great art, portraits both of the Documentary and the Interpretive types should appear natural and effortless. That is to say the work that goes into planning, preparing and finishing a photograph into a portrait should not be evident. They should be enjoyed as personal, family art treasures.

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