This essay focuses on 20th-century portrait photography, and argues that the facial portrait has become one of the most productive conventions in the history of the medium. It considers the social documentary work of Lewis Hine, as well as Dorothea Lange's and Walker Evans's government-sponsored photography of the Depression. Portraits by Robert Frank and Richard Avedon created in the context of, but also independently from, The New York School of Photography are discussed subsequently. The images considered here have in common that they mobilize the viewer's affective response, while at the same time they negotiate the shifting relationship between the photographer, his or her subject, and the viewer. Finally, Avedon's project In the American West, 1979-1984 is presented as a basis to question the (conventional) position of the human subject as the object of the photographer's look, as Avedon conceives of photo portraiture as an essentially mutual, performative act.
© 2014 by Walter de Gruyter Berlin/Boston