While I have so far enjoyed all aspects of this class, the part of it that I am less familiar with in my studies is what I’ve actually enjoyed the most…the visual culture part! A few of our three hour seminars have been almost solely devoted to the study of portraits and photographs, and what the subjects of the photos/portraits and the time periods during which they were done or taken represent.
I was recently looking through some of the New York Times archives online and came across something called “Portraits of Grief”. These “portraits” depict victims of the September 11 attacks, and include a thumbnail photograph of a victim, and a few blurbs about the victim’s background, life leading up to 9/11, and sometimes, at the end, a short narrative on what the victim did for a living and perhaps even what the victim was doing on the morning of the attacks. In navigating the website, it was hard to figure out when these “portraits” were first documented, but in reading them it seems as though they were written in the immediate months following 9/11. I thought that considering what we have been studying in class, these portraits were fascinating on many levels but mainly because they add even more meaning to the word “portrait”. In this circumstance, the word does not just mean a photograph or a drawing of a person, but is a small picture alongside a description of their life…these together are what make these pieces “portraits”. In learning about the history of portraiture, and then applying what we know to what we read on websites or in newspapers, or any other type of medium, we learn that the definition of a portrait does not just mean what a person physically looks like, but everything that they are.
I’ve included the website so that you guys can see what I’m talking about!