“The function of portrait painting was to underwrite and idealise a chosen social role of the sitter. It was not to present him as ‘an individual’ but, rather, as an individual monarch, bishop, landowner, merchant and so on. Each role had its accepted qualities and its acceptable limit of discrepancy. (A monarch or a pope could be far more idiosyncratic than a mere gentleman or courtier.) The role was emphasised by pose, gesture, clothes and background. (…)
The satisfaction of having one’s portrait painted was the satisfaction of being personally recognised and confirmed in one’s position: it had nothing to do with the modern lonely desire to be recognised ‘for what one really is’. (…)
It seems that the demands of a modern vision are incompatible with the singularity of viewpoint which is the prerequisite for a static-painted ‘likeness’. The incompatibility is connected with a more general crisi concerning the meaning of individuality. Individuality can no longer be contained within the terms of manifest personality traits. In a world of transition and revolution individuality has become a problem of historical and social relations, such as cannot be revealed by the mere characterizations of an already established social stereotype. Every mode of individuality now relates to the whole world.”
— John Berger, “The Changing View of Man in the Portrait” in Selected Essays.
Images in order: August Sander, Young Farmers, Westerwald, 1914; Alex Dellow, Teddy Boys, Tottenham 1954; Robert Frank, Newburgh, New York, 1955; Alec Soth, Josh Joelton, Tennessee; Bryan Schutmaat, Perry, Cascade, Montana