John Nielsen

John Nielsen


by John Nielsen (Denmark)

I am not thinking to much about the camera anymore.  The focus is in front of the camera, the moment and the light. I trust my instinct. The first thought that comes to mind is usually the right one. I’m not there yet but I am on my way!

Portfolio from the Portrait workshop with Richard Dumas, October 2015.

Written review by CORINE HAMEL,
Photo editor at Marie Claire, France

Hello John,

I have been listening with great attention your interview on the EyesInProgress website and you seem to focus strongly on the human being and the exchange with the person.
Therefore, it is not surprising that you chose a workshop about the portrait, which is one of the major uses in photography.

The portrait in photography is based on the interaction between the photographer and the subject. The portrait is therefore a tricky, risky genre for the photographer, who will have to provide his own vision of the person he chooses to portray and the model who will have to accept the image he or she gave of himself.
The portrait stands on this unstable balance between the photographer and his subject.
This is what makes the portrait in photography so fascinating for us spectators to watch.

John Nielsen - 1PF_500px - copie

John Nielsen - 2PF_500px - copie

You chose a drastic approach of the portrait in the realization of your series numbered from 1 to 8 and forming a whole set.
First of all, by choosing a neutral background, without any material or color, a background eliminating any notion of environment and not giving any information confusing the interpretation of the portrait you wish to realize.
Your subject really is the artless person, without any make up.
Of course, the choice of the color is not insignificant either. In painting, a color may give a descriptive information and bring us closer to reality, much more than black and white does.
This choice to use colors in your work to realize your portraits tends towards the realistic portrait you try to produce.
The choice of a straight frontal point of view at eye level contributes to this will of realism that you are seeking.
The choice of the centering, towards the top for the most part of the photographs of the series, tight on the face, is the logical result of your approach.
The light underlines the curve of the faces, grazing on some portraits, it stresses, without concessions, the imperfections of the skin, a prominent nose, etc.
Your lights do not sublimate the persons you photographed. I do think this is intentional.
People are represented for what they are, without any concessions.
But all the photographs do not have the same quality and the whole collection lacks of homogeneity in terms of treatment of the portraits.
The intention, as well as the main lines of the work are quite clear to understand, but the execution is not always accomplished.
To my point of view, two portraits are a cut above the rest.

Photographs #3 and #8
By the way, they have this in common that they use the camera look, which leaves a part of mystery and intimacy to the models.
The photograph #3 is very successful, I think.
The portrait is as descriptive as could be an ID picture be, but the man looks far away, which confers him a part of mystery, despite a willingly unexpressive face. This look escaping makes the picture breathe.
The adjustment on the center of the face leaves the shoulder in a very light blur, and this relation between sharp and blurred is interesting.
This portrait makes one forget about the photographer.

The photograph #8 is in the same vein. The light comes to underline the oval of the face, the ridge of the nose, the imperfections of the skin, enlightens the look that escapes from the frame.
By their composition, similar to classical painting, these two pictures take us to the inner world of these two characters; we may examine their face, explore it, come and go on each detail, and though they keep a part of their soul.

To me these two pictures form a successful diptych.


John Nielsen - 3PF_500px - copie


John Nielsen - 4PF_700px - copie

It is quite interesting to compare the picture #8 to picture #5. It portrays the same young women but as picture #8 is eloquent about the photographed women – at least what the photographer wanted us to see – picture #5 is very dry and does not teach us anything about this person.
I do not think that the camera look is the issue.

On the other side, the balance of the composition does not work, with a black hardly readable mass on the bottom of the picture. The light burns out the face on its left side, the picture seems blurred and, in the end, does not offer any asperity that our eyes could catch.



John Nielsen - 5PF_500px - copie


John Nielsen - 6PF_500px - copie

Regarding portrait #4, the choice of a horizontal format, the character placed at the center of the picture, the choice of a warmer colored background do not seem very relevant.
The face of the young women disappears, and the intention showed up in portraits #3 and #8 is lost. The centering stopping at the bottom of the neck does not work. It might have been suitable to show up more his circular face with big eyes and put the neck in a complete shadow by drowning it in a darker background.

Shadow and light are too equal and give the impression of cutting the face in two equal parts. One loses the curve of the left part of the face, drowning itself in the hair and forming an unreadable mass. Leave less space on both sides.
The purpose can be felt, you knew how to catch his look, but the execution is not quite at the same level.

I am not sure whether or not the horizontal format is the right choice for this kind of portrait.

In my opinion, portrait #6 is less interesting because it is too smooth. The centering should be revised, and could even be zoomed in, or be turned into a square format, focusing more on the face.
The square format is a relevant option for the portrait.
The composition and the pose chosen for portrait #7 are interesting – a pity that the light burns entirely the skin material on the left.

The neutral background works well.
On the other side, the model smiles slightly with the lips and eyes, which erases the statue effect that this picture could have given.


John Nielsen - 7PF_500px - copie John Nielsen - 8PF_500px - copie

Portrait #1 is of a totally different kind.
The use of the light on the white scarf is accurate, the pose of the model is interesting, but your centering is too wide and we do not need the reflection of the back of the skull with the little heart nor the knee that forms a black ball in the foreground.
If you really wanted to play with the small heart in the foreground, the image should have been approached from a different point of view and it would have been another story.

Portrait #2 is the only one in black & white.
The whole face starts in blurred from the top of the skull and the hair mass, with a bottom view that captures well the look of the kid. This portrait is fresh and merry, certainly captured live – and if it is the case, the impression is there and it is successful.
In general, I would advise you to be more demanding on your centering, on the elements included in the picture, to think more about which format to work with to execute the portraits, and to keep exchanging with your models as you managed to do it to realize the very sensitive and accomplished portraits #3 and #8.


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