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Portraiture exhibit that omits the subject

Jul 16, 2012 at 16:37 GMT

A celebrity portraiture series by American photographer Robert Weingarten is on display at Washington, D.C.'s Smithsonian museum. Weingarten's work is unusual in that his photographs do not include his famous subjects. Instead, he photographs individual objects and scenes that have informed the lives and achievements of his accomplished subjects and uses them to create a composite image in Photoshop, seeking a metaphorical, rather than representational portrait.

Weingarten has coined the phrase, 'the translucent composite' to describe his end result. To date, his subjects have included the likes of baseball icon Hank Aaron, actor/director Dennis Hopper, former US Secretary of State Colin Powell, and dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov. In the video below he explains that he begins by asking his subjects for an actual list of places and objects that have shaped and influenced their lives. He then goes about the task of photographing their choices - traveling to London and Rome to fulfill artist Chuck Close's list, for example.

A first reaction to Weingarten's approach may be that he inserts too much of himself into someone's portrait. Yet it can certainly be argued that photographic portraiture has always represented the voice of the photographer at least as much as that of the subject itself. And by allowing his subjects to provide the list of source material, perhaps this approach actually tips the balance more in favor of the subject.

Does Weingarten succeed in his aim of, as he puts it, 'creating a new language of portrait'? Can a viewer glean more insight from a metaphorical examination of a subject's life? Or is this approach best left to the medium of biography? Let us know what you think after watching the video below.

Robert Weingarten: Creating The Portrait Unbound from One Production Place on Vimeo.