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“A portrait! What could be more simple and more complex, more obvious and more profound,” French author Charles Baudelaire realised in 1859. Classically speaking, a portrait presents a bust of a person; in other words, head, neck, shoulders and chest to the top part of the arm. It is considered a half-close shot.

In a medium-close shot you can see more of the individual’s clothing and surroundings, and so the person’s impact on the environment becomes more obvious. If the background has a relationship to the person shown, then the picture can clarify further aspects about the life of the individual portrayed: a working place where they spend a lot of their time; their home; carrying out a favourite activity; or among family members.

If the portrait frames just the face of a person, so that the viewer sees only their head, then it is referred to as a close-up. In such depictions, the features of a person's face are at the forefront. Close-up pictures often have a neutral backdrop and are frequently taken in a studio. The degree of accuracy of the detail in a close-up portrait reveals the quality of the equipment in use.

Even when virtually no background is visible in a close-up, it is sometimes still possible to place the setting in relationship to the person portrayed. For instance, if the person works in a profession or activity that leaves traces on the face, then it is possible to say something indirectly about the photographic subject’s environment.

The more aspects and stories concerning a person's life that are reflected in a portrait, the more impressive and deeper it will be. It begins to speak.

Of course, there are also portraits that deliberately distance themselves from the usual intention of a portrait. In these cases, the refusal of (facial) information makes a statement about someone’s unconventionality, stubbornness or simple individualism. It is precisely because certain facial features are withheld that a portrait emerges that is open to the imagination. (Olaf Staaben)
Khanh Nguyen
Young miner after work
“Even though working in a mine represents a high level of risk, people still continue to take on the job. Hence, there is a song which says 'the miners are also soldiers',” Khanh Nguyen explains.

Even though you can barely recognise any of the setting, this portrait has a strong impact and tells enough to fill a book – about the work, the hardship, and the daily battle underground. This close-up shot sets the person portrayed in relationship to his surroundings, even though they are not visible.

Quang Ninh Province, Vietnam
SL with Summilux-TL 35 f/1.4 Asph
more pictures from Khanh Nguyen
Prof. Dr. Andreas Tenzler
Red dot in the New York Public Library
“Manhattan can be grey – especially on a cold day in February with a light snow falling. We were happy to have the cosy atmosphere of the New York Public Library,” Andreas Tenzler says, explaining the situation where the picture was taken.

A portrait taken of a person with body sunk down deep, seemingly in a bad mood. Or is it just concentration? The portrait does not disguise the context; we can see the library in the background and get a sense of the atmosphere. The tension in the picture comes from the unusual contrast between the warm red of the bag and coat, lit by artificial lighting, and the blueness of the touch of daylight that finely traces the hair.

New York City, USA
M (Typ 240) with Elmarit-M 90 f/2.8
more pictures from Prof. Dr. Andreas Tenzler
Rinaldo Alvisi
“I've been interested in photography since I was twelve years old. The passion I have for it is so strong that I cultivate it with the same intensity as my profession. My photographs have been presented in exhibitions, and my articles about photography and photographers have been published. I even worked part-time as a freelance journalist, while I was studying. Despite all this, I am not a professional photographer, because I don't live off photography, but rather from my work as a lawyer.”

Trani, Italy
M (Typ 262) with Summicron-M 50 f/2 (IV)
more pictures from Rinaldo Alvisi
Ray Evans
Woman construction worker
“In Thailand many women work on building sites, mostly as untrained general labourers, assisting husbands or partners. The construction projects often then expand to become a family concern, even involving children at times. The woman in the picture was working on a large shopping mall site that I covered on a daily basis over some two years. As a result, my presence was familiar and the woman did not mind when I asked to take the photo, during her lunch break.”

Construction site, Thailand
M (Typ 240) with Summilux-M 50 f/1.4 Asph
more pictures from Ray Evans
Mike Cary
“I live in Fredericksburg, Virginia, and I was already interested in photography as a teenager. The first time I got a Leica in my hands, an M4-2, was in 2009. Nowadays, I photograph with a digital Leica M9. This photo is from a shoot that we did in natural light in a studio near Union Square in New York City. I have known the model for six years. We had been shooting for about an hour when I asked her if she could play around with her hair, and this is one of the resulting photos.”

A successful example of a classic subject, reinterpreted in a playful manner.

New York City, USA
M9 with Summilux-M 50 f/1.4 (I)
more pictures from Mike Cary
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