Auckland Writers Festival 2010
From a panel discussion with Marti Friedlander
The panel discussed what they considered to be the paradox of portraiture. Namely, that a portrait both reveals and conceals a person. That the act of standing in front of the camera changes the subject so they conceal some aspect of themselves. They have “camera face”. While other things they may not be aware of reveal them.
Marti explained that she does not use props. That objects occur in the photographs are not arranged even though sometimes they take on meaning.
Nor is Marti interested in candid pictures, say of people eating. She expressed this as not being respectful of the subject.
Interestingly Marti told us that she believed that there was an aspect of sadness in all portraits and that it was impossible to capture all aspects of a person’s personality in a single picture. And this wasn’t an objective.
Marti explained how the subject has to know that the photographer is “not out to get them”, only get them in a photographic sense. She said she doesn’t always pose people in a photograph and it often the photographer is not always in control of the session.
Marti discuss technique will stop she said she never used anything other than “available light”. She explained how this offered greater mobility and “freed me up tremendously”. Marti never works in the studio of her own. Her pictures of artists taken in their own studios, with available lighting, required a tripod. But no tripod has been used in other pictures.
When Marti takes pictures of people she is directive in her portrait session. She tells people what to do. She believes people are looking for direction and she gives it to them.
Marti described herself as a person with a big personality and that in traveling the country and taking pictures of New Zealanders she felt she had to curtail this personality. She noted that when she started her career there were far fewer photographers than there are now.
Marti says, “the reason I use black and white is because I like the process of photography”. She went on to explain she developed her own film and makes your own print and that this is part of her craft of photography. The she is making a photograph as opposed to taking the photograph. She feels black and white photography has something different to offer. It’s more textural and focuses more on the subject. Marti explained health she most admired the photography of Dorothea Lange.
Marti predicted that darkroom photography will return once people move beyond the digital manipulation offered by PhotoShop.
Marti explains, “my photography is about people and life and how we engage”, “I am an observer”.