Shutter to Think: The king of portraiture continues to influence photographer’s work

Beverly Garcia sits in her Dixon home studio Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2023. Artists Garcia and Jan Harvey will be opening their homes to an art show Dec. 1 and 2 to showcase their work ahead of the holiday season.
Beverly Garcia sits in her Dixon home studio Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2023. Artists Garcia and Jan Harvey will be opening their homes to an art show Dec. 1 and 2 to showcase their work ahead of the holiday season.

Many years ago I picked up a giant book of portrait photography from – in my opinion, anyway – the king of portraiture, Arnold Newman. Newman’s specialty was the environmental portrait, a style where the subject is placed in their own space and often surrounded by the tools of their trade. Artists were a favorite subject of his but so were writers, politicians and other public figures.

That book had a huge impact on me. I still break it out and am awed at how much I love his style. Plus, I got the book on super discount which felt like a crime in and of itself. I routinely try, with varying success, to recreate his works, with the latest effort seen here of local artist Beverly Garcia.

On a scale of one to Newman I think I did about a two, but certainly not because of the wonderful subject. I still really like the image. It has nice balance, her expression is sincere and the scene was not constructed; it is as it appears and that feels authentic. I guess when we no longer strive to be better it’s time to hang up our lens caps.

Back in the day when we had a weekly photo-driven print page, I started an occasional artist series where I’d interview, write and take pictures of local artists as they worked on their craft. Of course an environmental portrait always was part of the series. That all was a direct influence from Mr. Newman.

As is so common, let’s end with a quote from the artist: “You don’t take pictures with your camera. You take pictures with your mind and your heart.”

Well said.

– Follow Alex T. Paschal @SVMPhotogs on Instagram or email him at apaschal@shawmedia.com.

Alex Paschal

Alex T. Paschal

Photojournalist/columnist for Sauk Valley Media