PRINT May 1980

Essential Differences: A Comparison of the Portraits of Lisette Model and Diane Arbus

JUDGING FROM PERTINENT LITERATURE, photographic portraiture has been a troublesome object of analysis for historians and critics. And that is understandable. It is one thing to analyze the formal underpinnings of an image whose subject matter, however mundane, is detached, distant, and separate from the viewer’s self-perceptions; it is quite another to analyze portraits whose subjects are human, whose mannerisms and self-projections, therefore, hit dangerously close to home.

When we speak of portraits, we speak of people—and the limits of our discourse are, by necessity, identical with the limits of our self-awareness. Photographic portraiture is an intrinsic part of the life of everyone who lives in a technological society; all of us have derived at least part of our “ideal” self-images from the portraits that constantly bombard us in the mass media, and most of us are photographed for

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