Framed family photographs on the wall, passport photos of loved ones kept in a wallet or album and snapshots sent by smartphone – we frequently encounter portraits.
Around 250 portrait photos reveal the variety of motifs used in this genre of photography. The images are assigned to four categories, depending on their purpose: They are still framed, collected, stuck into albums or used as messages, as they were in the past. Motifs in black-and-white are juxtaposed with their counterparts in colour.
Portraits – so shots of people – are taken in all conceivable situations and for many purposes. This definition creates a broad framework for portraits included in the exhibition. Portrait photos embody the interaction between the persons in front of and behind the camera, as well as how, where and when the picture was taken and by whom it is seen. Portraits are frequently staged: by the photographer or the people who would like to be presented in a very particular way.
Portrait photography emerged in 1840, building on the tradition of portrait painting. The Berlin photographer and portrait artist Karl Wahl, for instance, was a master of both disciplines: He also offered to retouch the photos using oil paint and pastel. Topics and occasions to create portraits become more diverse as this style of photography moves out of the studios and into the everyday lives of their subjects. But one thing remains the same in the selection of the motif: People take shots of things that matter to them. The ability to take colour or digital photographs does not diminish the fascination with portrait pictures, either – quite the contrary. People present themselves on a daily basis, producing a deluge of images: There are currently more than 90 million images with the hashtag #portrait on the photo platform Instagram.
The exhibition is a potpourri tracing 16 decades of staged portrait photography. Every visitor will discover some connection to their own photographic history in this colourful mixture – be it in front of or behind the camera. After all, everyone's photos can be assigned to one of the following categories: framed, collected, stuck in an album or sent around the world.