In pursuing my vintage photograph obsession, I run across basic studio portraits all the time, ranging in date from the 1800s through the 1970s. Some might think that seeing simple portraits of intentionally-posed individuals over and over again would get boring, but I find quite the opposite. These portraits offer a consistent window into times past -- into changing clothing and hairstyles, jewelry and other fashion trends, as well as improvements and changes in photography itself.
In terms of general presentation, studio portraits have changed very little over the past 80 years or so. The person to be photographed is seated in front of a simple backdrop or wall. The portrait is taken in a consciously posed manner, either straight-on or at an angle, or sometimes in profile. Attention is paid to proper lighting, and the subjects typically take care with their appearance, wearing clean, pressed clothes, sporting carefully coiffed hair, and women wearing fresh make-up.
While full-length portraits were very common from the late 1800s through the 1930s or so, by the 1940s we start seeing many more "head-and-shoulder" style portraits. The shift to head-and-shoulder portraits does limit our ability to follow certain trends, such as shoe fashions and dress-lengths, but there is still plenty to examine, learn, and enjoy.
The inspiration for this post was a young woman named Henryetta. Here she is in 1941:
This portrait grabbed my attention because of her fabulous jacket -- and because her crooked-tooth smile, curly hairdo, and bright eyes made me smile, too!
Really, isn't her jacket wonderful? It is classic 1940s, with that wide, gingham collar and matching big, fabric-covered buttons and pocket. If you look closely at the neckline, a polka-dot blouse peeks out from underneath the checked jacket collar. She is wearing two large rings, one on the ring finger of each hand. It looks like she was posed with her hands fingers extended to intentionally show off the rings. Maybe the photographer just thought the rings added interest to the photograph. But I prefer to think that the rings were of some special significance to Henryetta -- maybe one is a class ring, and the other a family heirloom -- and so she wanted to make sure they played a prominent role in her portrait.