Between 1923 and 1963 the Irish photographer Edward Chambre Hardman (1898–1988) operated a commercial portrait studio in Liverpool. Over those 40 years, he meticulously stored and catalogued over 100,000 negatives in 300 biscuit tins and 11 handwritten studio ledgers. As part of his PhD thesis, Dr Keith Roberts (an OCA tutor) transcribed the 100,000 manual ledger entries into an Excel spreadsheet (1:12).
The critical aspect of this exercise was the data’s primary key – in this case, the individual photograph reference number, which Hardman had recorded both in the ledger and on the glassine sleeves containing the individual negatives. Now any photographic negative could, theoretically, be physically found having been previously identified by a database search.
So now Roberts could sort and search the data and then find the photographs using characteristics that were of interest to him, for example, two photographs of Lord Mayors of Liverpool. But of greater interest to Roberts were the photographs of Mr X taken years apart. Previously entirely inaccessible, Intermission Portraits as Roberts named them, became a key focus of his PhD.
Analytical model developed by Jo Spence and Rosy Martin (1:97,98)
The Physical Description – Consider the human subject within a photograph, then start with a forensic description, moving towards taking up the position of the sitter. Visualise yourself as the sitter in order to bring out the feelings associated with the photograph.
The Context of Production – Consider the photograph’s context in terms of when, where, how and by whom and why the photograph was taken.
The Context of Convention – Place the photograph into context in terms of the technologies used, aesthetics employed, photographic conventions used.
The Currency – Consider the photograph’s currency within its context of reception; who or what was the photograph made for? Who owns it now or where is it kept? Who saw it then and who sees it now?
Analytical model by David Bate
In his book ‘Photography: The Key Concepts’ David Bate (2) describes the five elements of a portrait saying that varying types of portraiture apply a different emphasis to these individual components. The elements, with examples of types, are described below:
Face – The various facial parts work together to provide meaning to the portrait. Examples of these components and their use are. Eyes – sad, happy, surprised. Mouth – smiling, pouting, sad, angry. Facial expression – Blank, frowning, surprised. Hair – neat, untidy, style. Skin – Race, social standing, life history. The orientation of head – sadness, curiosity, affection.
Pose – Posture – Upright, slouched, hunched. Arms – folded, dangling. Hands – clenched fists, open relaxed, touching the face.
Clothing – Age. Sex. Class. Fashion. Wealth. Ethnicity.
Location – Sets the scene for the subject. Can convey wealth, profession and race. Blank backgrounds used in passport or mug shots deliberately remove clues about the subject.
Props – Similar to location, props used to convey status, wealth or worldliness.
Difference between the two models (including comparison with Barrett)
Spence provides, in a similar way to Terry Barrett’s Contextual Model (3), a framework for the analysis of a photograph. Barrett talks of the Internal, External and Original contexts.
Barratt’s Internal Context matches Spence/ Martin’s Physical Description and Context of Convention. In other words, these elements describe the photograph itself.
Barratt’s External Context matches the Spence/Martin idea of Currency. In other words its context of reception, its presentational environment.
Lastly, Barratt’s Original Context matches Spence/Martin’s Context of Production and relates to why the image was made. What was the physical and psychological environment that existed for the photographer when the image was made?
The Bate model is more limited in its ambition. Firstly it is restricted to the analysis of portraiture and represents a checklist for detailed analysis of a portrait. It does not seek to locate the image in its wider context but, as Barratts Internal Context and Spence/Martin’s Physical Description and the Context of Convention, it assists in the detailed analysis of the actual image itself
Use of these models by Roberts
In Part 6 of his PhD thesis, Dr Keith Roberts uses both the Spence/Martin and Bate models to analyse two pairs of Intermission Portraits: J.J.W Davies (1943/1949) (1:252-263) and R.A. Nickson (1942/1946). I find the Davies images more intriguing and will concentrate on this pair.
A key theorist used by Roberts is Annette Kuhn (1:97), whose memory theory seeks to explain how historical photographs have a modern-day use in the triggering of memory. Kuhn proposes that ceremonial costumes, in this case, the military uniform worn by Davies in 1943, represent not only an image of the individual but also signifies World War II and will trigger memories of that war.
According to Roberts, Kuhn’s memory theory draws upon Spence/Martin’s model in particular part four, the image’s ‘Currency’.
Roberts uses the Bate model to perform a detailed analysis of each image and speculates as to possible reasons for the changes. When discussing the 1949 photograph and, in particular, Davies’ pose, Roberts says ‘The most significant aspect of this portrait is his clenched fist…, it can potentially be read as Hardman’s use to signify Davies’ anger and aggression’.
My basic interpretation of these Intermission Portraits
I agree with Roberts that, in particular the first image, Davies looks quite androgynous. But I don’t see the anger in either of these images. In the 1943 image, I see a young man that looks quite timid and nervous. In the second image, I see somebody that looks very tense. His face looks tight, his pose is stiff and his hand is clenched so tightly.
So what does Big Brother make of him?
(1) Roberts, K. (2017). Photographic Interventions within the Edward Chambré Hardman Portraiture Archive. Ph.D. Manchester Metropolitan University.
(2) BATE, D. (2019). PHOTOGRAPHY. 2nd ed. London: BLOOMSBURY VISUAL ARTS, pp.89-97.
(3) Barrett, T. (2012). Criticizing photographs. 5th ed. New York: McGraw Hill, pp.105-113.