Against the synthetic portrait, for the snapshot
Novyi lef № 4, pgs. 14-16
Moscow (April 1928)
I was once obliged to dispute with an artist the fact that photography cannot replace painting in a portrait. He spoke very soundly about the fact that a photograph is a chance moment, whereas a painted portrait is the sum total of moments observed, which, moreover, are the most characteristic of the man being portrayed. The artist has never added an objective synthesis of a given man to the factual world, but has always individualized and idealized him, and has presented what he himself imagined about him — as it were, a personal summary. But I am not going to dispute this; let us assume that he presented a sum total, while the photograph does not.
The photograph presents a precise moment documentarily.
It is essential to clarify the question of the synthetic portrait; otherwise the present confusion will continue. Some say that a portrait should only be painted; others, in searching for the possibility of rendering this synthesis by photography, follow a very false path: they imitate painting and make faces hazy by generalizing and slurring over details, which results in a portrait having no outward resemblance to any particular person — as in pictures of Rembrandt and Carrière.
Any intelligent man will tell you about the photograph’s shortcomings in comparison to the painted portrait; everyone will tell you about the character of the Mona Lisa, and everyone forgets that portraits were painted when there was no photography and that they were painted not of all the intelligent people but of the rich and powerful. Even men of science were not painted.
You need not wait around, intelligentsia; even now AKhRR artists will not paint you. True — they can’t even depict the sum total, let alone .001 of a moment.
Now compare eternity in science and technology. In olden times a savant would discover a truth, and this truth would remain law for about twenty years. And this was learned and learned as something indisputable and immutable.
Encyclopedias were compiled that supplied whole generations with their eternal truths.
Does anything of the kind exist now? …No.
Now people do not live by encyclopedias but by newspapers, magazines, card catalogues, prospectuses, and directories.
Modern science and technology are not searching for truths, but are opening up new areas of work and with every day changed what has been attained.
Now they do not reveal common truths — “the earth revolves” — but are working on the problem of this revolution. Continue reading