the portrait of a lady

“Portrait of a Lady”

Sydney August 2015 (4 photos)

“My photographs are not planned or composed in advance, and I do not anticipate that the onlooker will share my viewpoint. However, I feel that if my photograph leaves an image on his (or her) mind, something has been accomplished.”
– Robert Frank, photographer.

I think this quote is very true for me. Usually I just wander with my camera ready and just take photos of whoever comes into sight. I’m generally not looking for anyone or anything in particular. I find that a scene will often just present itself, allowing me to maybe take a photo that will leave an impression in somebody’s mind.

I took the photograph of a lady above as I walked past her table. My lens was prefocussed to about 2 metres and once I was at the right position I took the photo. I’m pretty good at not bringing attention to myself. She was just sitting there and staring into space and it so happened that I took the photo as my camera was in the line of her stare. If you’re wondering, this is the photo I took 2 seconds earlier:

Portrait of a lady 2

“Sometimes she went so far as to wish that she should find herself in a difficult position, so that she might have the pleasure of being as heroic as the occasion demanded.”
― Henry James, author, The Portrait of a Lady.

You can see the woman still just staring blankly into space in the background. The younger woman in this second photo is just adjusting her hair. If you’re interested, this is the photo I took 2 seconds earlier:

Portrait of a lady 3

“It’s not my fate to give up – I know it can’t be.”
― Henry James, author, The Portrait of a Lady.

All 3 of these photos were taken whilst I was walking. All 3 women were just doing nothing in particular. You may now have an appreciation of how close I get to take my photos. In part that is neccessitated by the other people in the corridor at the time. These photos were all taken with a 40mm focal length lens. Here’s a nice “portrait type” crop of the first photo:

the portrait of a lady cropped

“She had an immense curiosity about life, and was constantly staring and wondering.”
― Henry James, author, The Portrait of a Lady.

“There is one thing the photograph must contain, the humanity of the moment. This kind of photography is realism.”
-Robert Frank, photographer.

Robert Frank (born November 9, 1924), is a photographer and documentary filmmaker. His most notable work, the 1958 book titled The Americans, earned Frank comparisons to a modern-day de Tocqueville for his fresh and nuanced outsider’s view of American society.

Henry James, OM (15 April 1843 – 28 February 1916) was an American writer who spent most of his writing career in Britain. He is regarded as one of the key figures of 19th-century literary realism. He is best known for a number of novels showing Americans encountering Europe and Europeans. His method of writing from a character’s point of view allowed him to explore issues related to consciousness and perception, and his style in later works has been compared to impressionist paintings. The Portrait of a Lady is one of James’s most popular long novels, and is regarded by critics as one of his finest.

Over at the WordPress Weekly Photo challenge, the topic this week is Monochromatic. I thought I’d just keep doing what I do, in black and white, the purest form of monochrome.

Photography Etcetera, Sony Etcetera

Portrait of a Lady


94 thoughts on “Portrait of a Lady

  1. I could learn a lot just by walking around with you with cameras in our hands! I like the shot of the woman staring into space, especially the uncropped one as the pattern in the carpet draws the eye right on by her — which is what you did after snapping the shot, you walked right on by.

  2. Amazing succession of shots, Dragon. A step forward and you would have captured the lady looking right down the barrel of your lens…but I really like how your shot turned out, her eyes a little off centre. It looks as if she is impatient, waiting for her coffee to come.

    You’re certainly stealthy with that camera and lens of yours 🙂

  3. Brilliant. Love the explanations and all the quotes too. Tell me LD where exactly do you hold your camera as you take these portraits? Is it by your side or in front? I’m just curious as to how you manage to escape unnoticed, unless, of course, you are
    i n v i s i b l e…

  4. Very interesting series of photos! I like the first photo (before cropping) as much as the last one. In the first photo, she seems so small in the universe. The environment and how she exists in it grabs me. In the last photo, I connect to her instantly; I have less feeling about the environment. I am not surprised. I like all of your photos!

    • Thank you, Helen. Every photo has the potential to speak in many ways. I’m glad there was something of interest to be found. Some people I know just don’t understand why I do street photography and you’ve now answered that question.

  5. I like the way you’ve chosen how to photograph the women in your pictures. The method you have used has produced some very unique natural shots.

    You have certainly given me some food for thought. I want to go and try this out myself.

  6. These are very cool portraits, Dragon! Love the second shot especially, you captured her facial expression nicely; not sure what the guy’s fingers were doing… 🙂 It looks like the lady of the last one was looking at you.
    Quotes go perfectly with your images. Well done, Dragon! 🙂 Thank you for introducing the “Portrait of a Lady” by H J.

    • Thanks, Amy. I don’t remember what he was doing so I can’t help there. But he’s looking down, so maybe he saw something that made him go, arrrgh!. 🙂

      This post had a very boring title/nature until I changed it to the current one, and found these related quotes. Saved by google again. 🙂 🙂 🙂

  7. That was a very interesting and informative post. To show us the sequence of photos and how you manage to get them in such sharp focus is an excellent lesson. The photos make me wonder what the people are thinking, especially the first old lady, she does look rather sad.

  8. Hi, I’m always impressed with all your B&W photos. Are they straight out of the camera or do you post-processed? I love the contrasts and sharpness. Or maybe because of the Leica? Because I feel that most cameras B&W mode turn out quite flat or grey. So I’m curious of your tricks 🙂

    • Thank you very much. These particular photos were taken with a Sony camera. 🙂

      I never use the in camera B&W mode or other artistic mode. I shoot in plain/simple raw format and post process my images in Lightroom (no photoshop) in colour to the way that I like them. After that, I convert to B&W in the way that I like them. It takes me 5 – 10 minutes per photo.

  9. tracing back your steps in a series of photos was so interesting 🙂
    love the expression of that lady that you have captured, piercing, yet soft and gentle at the same time, you’ve captured her soul there… it’s true there is some curiosity in her eyes…and that light (especially in the hair) is really stunning… wow… Lignum!!

    • Thanks, Alex. I’m glad you found my reverse storytelling interesting. I think I watch too many tv shows and movies. 🙂

      I was lucky with my timing and light that day. It was a good day for photography. 🙂

  10. I wonder about the venue, the setting for your pictures. I have seen you take pictures in this mall-like environment before. Where and what is this building? Why does it draw you?

    • Thanks. It’s a tourist attraction, one in 5 people or so are carrying cameras and I do not stand out in the crowd. There’s a large glass roof for natural lighting. Great photographic conditions.

  11. This really does look like a portrait. If you’d said she had posed for you, I would have thought you’d changed your technique! 🙂

    I like the quote about a photo containing the humanity of the moment, I think there’s a great deal of truth in that, and would explain why most of those smiling family/friends shots are not so flattering or interesting to look at. I much prefer to see the real character instead of fakery. In some ways those old Victorian (non smiling) photos have more character in them than some of our posed portraits do today.

  12. It’s interesting how human emotions change in a fraction of seconds. I’ve always wondered, how photographers can wait patiently – to observe – the slightest change. Particularly loved the shot second shot. 🙂

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