Rosalie Nilson

Rosalie Nilson


by Rosalie Nilson (Australia)

Living in Sydney Australia, I came to Paris to attend the portrait workshop with Richard Dumas. With a background in documentary and street photography, I was interested in gaining experience in the area of portrait photography.

The workshop has been great, Richard is extremely approachable and shared his observations in respect to the nature of portraiture. As a result I gained a far better understanding of what actually constitutes a good portrait. The models were terrific, which made the larding curve a lot of fun. The theme of my portfolio is Solitude, those moments when there is comfort in being alone.

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

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

Hello Rosalie and thanks for choosing me to review your work. You explain in your personal statement to have chosen to show solitude, those moments when its good to be alone. You imposed yourself a triple constraint: make portraits (first difficulty) of people you did not know before photographing them (second difficulty linked to the workshop) and decline throughout those 9 portraits the theme of assumed and appreciated solitude.

It was an ambitious road map because making a good portrait is already a perilous exercice. Make an emotion visible, an inner feeling requires the photographer to use all available tools and know how to balance them (direct the model, construct the framing, the angle, the light, the depth of field, the decor, the light, the format, the focal, etc. ) For sure, solitude can be expressed by faces expression and body language but this is far from being enough, it is also required to play with all tricks photography offer to pass the message, to give solitude to see. In the suggested corpus, the only photograph that answers this intention is n°6 (it is by the way the only one that is not a frontal portrait).

Why does this photograph work? because we can see a person, alone, and of which the body language means a pause, a reflexive moment. The decor suggests the working environment and that is the contrast between this young women pause and the working atmosphere of machines surrounding her, of the needlewomen in the background that allow the viewer that I am to feel the solitude of this person, her quiet moment. The light is soft, diffuse, it wraps the young women. Green and beige colors are cold, highlighted with red spots (the first plan cloth, lips, wire coils) give the rhythm to the composition. The distance you are at when pushing the button makes us think it is like a stolen moment, you were passing by, you noticed this young women and make the shot.

Make a good portrait is a delicate balance between managing, in the direction we want, the person you’re photographing and leaving enough freedom to the model to capture the emotion. In the same time, the photographer must keep in control of his subject, take care of the setting, of the backgrounds, of the camera distance with the subject, of the light, of the framing… Be close to the model does not necessarily mean that we’re better at showing his/her feelings and that is the mistake of some of your pictures.

If I take picture n°1, the expression you captured in the young women’s look calls our attention, it’s melancholic and dreamy, but why asked her such a little comfortable attitude. She does not know what to do with her hands, and finally her arms form a disgraceful shape that surrounds her face. The table wood occupies an important part of the framing without bringing information. Its a part of the frame that is unexploited and ruins the overall composition to the lower right corner of the image.

The general tones of materials and flesh are interesting, the diffused light also, but not enough exploited. If I keep in mind solitude representation on which you wished to work, then the look at the camera of the young lady on picture n°2 does not work. She is not alone, she looks at you. There again the picture framing should be more worked out, the character is in the middle of the frame, kneels on the first ground make two bumps, the back ground is crossed by the stairs, without vanishing point, without perspectives. This stairs are too presents, or not enough….but there isn’t any bias regarding the decor, no interaction between the character and his environment. The choice of setting on the stairs shows her curled, nearly agressive. This young women does not know neither what to do with her hands, her forearms make an horizontal spot at the bottom of the image.

High angle shot on picture n°2 and low-angle shot on n°3. The preconceived angles could work, the eyes of the character go above the camera, but because the eyes are in the shadow due to slight back lighting, and lateral light, we lose the intention. A different work on light would have brought a bit more to this picture. The way you deal with background, blurry, textured is interesting. I am less sure fo the two colored light bulbs that frame the top of the man’s skull. It is exactly positioned in the middle. Was it necessary? Wasn’t there another way to play with those bulbs and the lateral light?

Once again, it is not because you get closer from the character that you give to see his inner life. It is you behind the camera who must build the image in a way you bring the viewer to understand, feel the feeling that you wanted to express positioning the character in the chosen decor, framing, using the light to accentuate or reduce this ir this part of the face, body, decor. In this picture, as in the previous one, the person is as if she was positioned in front a background without the different plan interacting with each other or melt into one another.

Picture 5 and 7 work well together I think. A young women very expressive on a deep blue background in contrast with the red of the lipstick and the black of the jacket. I cannot figure out if she yawns because she’s feeling well (then why such violent color contrasts – why such a tough light?) or if she screams of despair. It is a problem of actors management. And also of the too tight framing that do not give us enough information to understand the body language of the young women. On a formal point of view, the black hole of the mouth in the center is a problem for me. Picture 8 expresses the well being but watch out the details. Her collar pearl rolled on the side, it is a shame.

Located in the center, she could have sparkled that would have woken up the black of the shirt. The coat folding on the right is not gracious. The photographer must have the eye for every detail that matter and which brings sense including the way to arrange the clothing.

I would do the same remark for photo n°10 (were the scarf and the jacket necessary? – the model is cold in the church – too bad – you want to have your picture and if some clothes do not have the result you’re looking for on the image then you need to as her to remove them). The cold shivers might well be the incident that will allow you to take the good shot, the one you were looking for. The choice of the churches decor, why not? its a place where one can think, alone. It is a good idea to express the happiness of a moment of solitude. But why placing the character in the middle of the image? I do not see any preconceived view of composition, framing. It’s a shame, the place really could have allow it.

For picture n°9, another character in the middle of the image, in front of a door. This composition do not allow any focal point, it is impossible for the viewer to get in the image. And he is not alone, he looks at you :) his hands, posed as butterflies on his jeans are too present, they distract us from his face. I am pretty sure that bare chested this portrait would have taken some strength. You need to dare.

To conclude, do not hesitate to play with models, turn around – face, profile, 3/4 – all of this make sense in a portrait, refine your point of view according to your intention (high or low angle shot, frontal point of view) , work on the body position, the look direction what their hands are saying (their position, what do they do? do they touch an object? if yes, why? does this object teach us something about the character? The back ground (plain, texture, identifiable decor we then place the character in an environment tat makes sense). Careful to think a lot on the framing, the image construction, strength lines, first plan, background, light of course. The masters of portraitures are excellent examples to study.

I think that this workshop taught you a lot as it makes you question on portrait practice and push your limits – especially in your relationship to the models.

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