People always want to see photographs of themselves smiling and all of that is good but sometimes people just have a blank look about them. I shot this image of my father during the Christmas season while on one of the trips to Shawnee Lodge for dinner and to see the decorations. It was a series of shots because now I often shoot 3 in sequence with hopes of getting a good focus plus maybe some different expressions. In the next sequence of frames, he had a broad smile.
Yesterday, I was reading some photography blogs and ran across a reference to styles of photography with one of them being "deadpan". I think a lot of us are familiar with the fashion style of a few years ago that would depict a young model who was standing straight and rigid in an alley, a sidewalk, against a blank wall- all with a deadpan or blank look about their face. Some thought it was overdone and wished for the fad to end. After reading yesterday, I was surprised that this style of photography is a long established genre that dates back a hundred years and includes not only portraits but also landscapes, city scenes, farming and country shots, and many others.
I remember shooting a head and shoulders shot of my friend Mike Adkins a few years ago, only to have him email back a response that he didn\’t like it very much at all because of lack of emotion. And Mike usually likes most of my stuff. So, in that light, I doubt if my father would like this portrait above. But we all have our moments where we have a lack of emotion, when we are "just thinking". I find it difficult to pin down an exact definition for deadpan in shots that are not portraits. Street scenes, living rooms, and forests all have their moments when they are just there, a snippet in time. The scene is just what it is, you haven\’t manipulated the objects but only have stumbled upon it and recorded it objectively. Even after writing this definition and reading similar ones elsewhere, I know it isn\’t complete. A good deadpan photograph must register some emotion in the viewer, that is the difficult part to define. Maybe it is a calming stillness that allows you to closely examine the structure of the scene itself and then feel that calming stillness within you. What do you think?
Eugene Atget is said to be one of the early photographers to use this style. I think it\’s pretty easy to pin a label on a portrait as deadpan but to label a streetscape in the same mode is something debatable. But this image of a Parisian street shot by Atget in 1900 is considered by many (or at least many bloggers) to be of the deadpan genre. Stephen Shore is another name that pops up when you are reading about this style. I\’ve long been a fan of Shore\’s photographs, they have this calm, still, lonely feeling to them that I love and find difficult to capture. I can look at the images and say "yes, that\’s deadpan photography…" but to describe exactly why would be difficult. Here is a link to a blog with a nice selection of Stephen Shore photographs, some of which are my favorites.
And finally, here is a link to an article on deadpan photography published on DPReview . This is sort of a summary article with lots of links, enough to keep you reading for hours. If you\’ve read this far, you\’re probably thinking that you know as little about the subject as you did in the beginning, but I suspect sometime in the near future you\’ll see a scene and think "deadpan photograph!"
Watch your thoughts; they become your words.
Watch your words; they become your actions.
Watch your actions; they become your habits.
Watch your habits; they become your character.
Watch your character for it will become your destiny.