Daily Picture Show

In Focus: The Portrait

Drive-by portraiture illustrates just how far the medium has come. When photography was invented in the early 1800s, cameras were cumbersome and only accessible to a few. But as the years progressed and technology improved, cameras became more widespread — and photography more commercial. In Focus: The Portrait, currently on exhibit at The J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, provides a retrospective of the portrait's evolution, from Civil War snapshots to Depression-era photojournalism to modern-day fine art.

  • President Lincoln stands at the United States Headquarters of the Army of the Potomac, near Antietam, in 1862.
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    President Lincoln stands at the United States Headquarters of the Army of the Potomac, near Antietam, in 1862.
    Image courtesy the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
  • Marchand d'Abat-Jours, 1901.
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    Marchand d'Abat-Jours, 1901.
    Eugene Atget, courtesy The J. Paul Getty Museum
  • Newsboy, Mobile, Alabama, 1914.
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    Newsboy, Mobile, Alabama, 1914.
    Lewis Hine, courtesy The J. Paul Getty Museum
  • Werner Siedhoff, Albert Menzel and Haftali Rubinstein, circa 1928
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    Werner Siedhoff, Albert Menzel and Haftali Rubinstein, circa 1928
    T. Lux Feininger, courtesy The J. Paul Getty Museum
  • Marlene Dietrich, actress and singer, 1932.
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    Marlene Dietrich, actress and singer, 1932.
    Cecil Beaton, courtesy The Cecil Beaton Studio Archive at Sotheby's
  • Bud Fields with his wife Ivy, and his daughter Ellen, Hale County, Alabama, 1936.
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    Bud Fields with his wife Ivy, and his daughter Ellen, Hale County, Alabama, 1936.
    Walker Evans, courtesy The J. Paul Getty Museum
  • Georgia O'Keeffe: A portrait.
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    Georgia O'Keeffe: A portrait.
    Alfred Stieglitz, courtesy J. Paul Getty Trust
  • A Young Girl in Ennis, Ireland, 1954.
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    A Young Girl in Ennis, Ireland, 1954.
    Dorothea Lange, courtesy Oakland Museum of California, the City of Oakland
  • The Brown Sisters, Cambridge, 1986.  Nicholas Nixon)
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    The Brown Sisters, Cambridge, 1986. Nicholas Nixon)
    Image (c
  • Morton, Mississippi, 1971.  Eggleston Artistic Trust)
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    Morton, Mississippi, 1971. Eggleston Artistic Trust)
    William Eggleston, (c

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Oddly enough, the first image in this series, an eerie portrait of Lincoln, resembles the very last image — a 1960s color portrait of trick-or-treaters. Both show three males with vacant stares, standing in the center of the frame. And yet the images are worlds apart. For one thing, the trick-or-treaters are staring straight at the camera. What's more, one boy is wearing flowered pants, which Lincoln would likely find unthinkable.

Between the these two portraits is a diverse, although hardly comprehensive, sampling of the photograph's history. Take a look to get an idea of how far today's little point-and-shoot cameras have come.

The exhibition runs through June 14 at the Getty Center.

By Claire O'Neill

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