Exercise 1.3 Portraiture typology

Typologies are tricky things. The definition is straightforward. According to Collins English dictionary it is: ‘A typology is a system for dividing things into different types, especially in science and the social sciences.’ A much longer definition/explanation is in an essay by Paul Davis in which he argues that ‘the primary reasons to create a photographic typology would be to either create a connection between subjects that share no obvious visual relationship. Or to compare and highlight differences and/or similarities between subjects that do share a visual relationship. Context frames the work. If creating a visual relationship was the intention, the context will then provide further confirmation. These three factors can be used to assess possible intention and enhance interpretation’.


For this exercise we are asked to ‘create a photographic portraiture typology … to bring together a collection of types …. Don’t make the series too literal and obvious’. It was the last criteria that gave me difficulty. All the collections I could think of were literal.

 I experimented with taking pictures of people who were in a very close ‘club’ – that of train drivers – but specifically of those old trains that have been restored and now are run as a hobby. These people are fascinating, and variable, not all men, not all old! I went to two trains to explore this and it is something I want to explore further- but it is going to take considerable time to do, as they are not close to gather in space, are often only open at the weekends (and not all weekends) and need good weather! This is a long-term project – and one I will continue with.

I then decided to use an opportunity to take images of a group of people I work with. It was l leaving do, a lunch affair. This had its own difficulties. We were inside, so the light was not good, and varied between the two rooms we were in. There were a lot of background distractions, other people, odd pieces of furniture, windows and doors. The group wanted me to take their photos – but did not want to stay still or pose formally. I likened it to trying to herd cats. The group is all female, although not all the people I work closely with are. This is the group that chose to come to the event.

To produce a typology from this somewhat unpromising start I picked out the individual images and cropped them to a square head and shoulders views. I choose to process them as monochrome images, with a slight sepia tint, partly to bring them together as a set, and partly to play on the theme of a retirement, the end of an era. This typology could be titled with a variety of names:

  • Women who lunch
  • Doctors – specifically paediatricians
  • Friends
  • Retirees

This is a typology similar to Sander’s in that it is a close group of people, categorised by their profession, and therefore, inevitably by their social status. However, I suspect he would have been surprised to find the group of doctors consisting solely of women. I have chosen to think of them by their activity rather than their work, as several are retired. A marked difference from Sander’s images is that all are smiling – a change in convention for portraits from his times, and also due to the relaxed situation the images were taken in. The background suggests the informal nature of the event – but does not give clues to their occupation.

Final Typology – Women who Lunch

Learning points:

  • It is difficult to take images for one purpose (a typology) at an event
  • I need to improve my organisational and command skills – they wouldn’t hold still or look at me
  • Moving the whole group outside and doing it as a more formal exercise might have been both simpler and given better (more coherent) images

Positive points:

  • My portraiture skills are slowly improving
  • Everybody was pleased with their photos

Contact Sheets:

Reference list

Collinsdictionary.com. (2019). Typology definition and meaning | Collins English Dictionary. [online] Available at: https://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/typology [Accessed 2 Aug. 2019].

Davis, P. (2017). Can the photographic typology be defined? [online] Medium. Available at: https://medium.com/@pdtv/can-the-photographic-typology-be-defined-bfa38d5699f3.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s