I was thinking about portraits. You know, those often-formal (or not) pictures of people that say something about who and what they are.
My stream of consciousness started overflowing its banks, leading my thoughts to iconic portraits snapped by iconic portrait photographers.
I started asking myself, "What or who mostly makes a portrait iconic? The photographer or the sitter?"
Then, it hit me. Not like an epiphany but more like a fog-lifting awareness which, in truth, is how many things become part of my awareness. (More truth: Rarely does the fog completely lift.)
For the most part, when we see portraits that are proclaimed "iconic," it's very often because of who the sitter might be rather than who the photographer might be. Certainly, that's not an iron-clad rule--think Steve McCurry's Nat Geo photo of the Afghan girl with those feakin' eyes--but, in the world of portrait photography, it's often who is in front of the camera, not behind it, that matters most in terms of creating iconic portraits; make that portraits that, later, are perceived as iconic.
In some ways, that kinda sucks.
I don't know about many of you, and this ain't me getting full of myself, but I believe I can snap portraits that are pretty damn good--photographically good--just like many master portrait photographers have and still do except, in my case and probably yours, I don't have sitters who will automatically elevate my portrait-taking into the realms of renown. Generally, my subjects don't have the juice or position or celebrity or status to make my stuff particularly memorable--regardless of how good it might be--in the minds of the masses... nor is it likely that, as a consequence, any of my stuff will ever be dubbed, "iconic," by whomever does the dubbing.
As an example, if you consider the famous photo of Winston Churchill, snapped by Yousuf Karsh, the one where Churchill has that tough-as-nails resolute scowl on his face, did it really matter who snapped it?
(Update: Here's a link to an interesting account of Karsh's encounter with Churchill. I've read the same or similar accounts elsewhere.)
I'm not taking away from the considerable skills and talent of Yousuf Karsh. The man was one of the world's great portrait photographers! But still, if almost anyone else had shot nearly that same photo, and then that photo became, as Karsh's photo did, a big part of Britain's war propaganda machine against the 3rd Reich during WW2, whoever snapped the image would, quite possibly--perhaps even probably-- be hoisted to a pedestal as a world-class portraitist and, perhaps, even have gone on to be dubbed another "Sir Icon."
(Updated Note: I'm not saying all pics of iconic sitters become iconic pics. I'm simply saying it often takes an iconic sitter for a pic to become iconic... if that makes sense.)
Anyway, read what you will into what I'm saying because, as usual, I'm just saying.
Pic at the top is the Goddess of Glam, Tera Patrick. I snapped it in her home, uhh... I don't remember when but it wasn't all that long ago. The photo certainly does NOT have iconic status nor any other particularly meritorious status. Nor, I'm sure, will it ever. In fact, few have seen this pic much less commented one way or another on its merits. (Or lack of them.) Tera, of course, does have a certain iconic status, albeit mostly within the world in which she has worked.