Saturday, December 29, 2007

Getting Under the Skin

What is it about portrait photography that is so compelling? Is it the vicarious voyeurism, the way you can stare at someone as long as you like, letting your imagination fill in the details about who they are? Or the exposure of the intimacies of lives that you never get a chance to see in everyday life?

Whether it's the incredible documentary work of Mary Ellen Mark, the humor of Elliot Erwitt or the storytelling of Duane Michals, these photographs always draw me in. I remember looking at Mark's book on the prostitutes of Bombay, the richness and color so stunning yet the squalor and pain so evident. About halfway through the book my head began to swim and I had to close the book before I fainted, a visceral reminder about the power of images.

Local photographer Ann Ploeger's images are more whimsical and contrived, yet also have the power to engage and reveal. Her new book, Portraits, is just out and getting great reviews, and the teasingly revealing photos with their splashy colors are fun to look at. She's also going to be teaching a class in January at the Newspace Center for Photography titled "From the Ground Up!" that will take students through the process of how to plan and stage their own visions.

Details: Portraits by Ann Ploeger. 96 pages; published by William, James & Company, Wilsonville, OR. ISBN 978-1-59028-194-9. $25.00.

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