Topographic Portraits

composite photographs 2007

With Topographic Portraits I explored the methods for creating portrait that comprises much more details than are commonly perceived. Visual perception dynamically combines the sensory data, reduces it to the essentials within the given context and discards anything irrelevant.

In observing a flat object like photograph or painting, the perceptual economy is influenced by geometry and relative immobility of the image so an exceptionally detailed presentation of a subject which is both compact and biologically critical, such as human face, can produce interesting effects linking the notion that god is in the detail with the one that the devil is in the details. Some of these effects can be found in hyperrealism (Duane Hanson, Patricia Picinini, Ron Mueck) and in contemporary photography (Thomas Ruff, Ben Gest, Valérie Belin).

This project was primarily a sketch. Using a simple 5MP digital camera, a regular tripod and local lighting, I mapped the portrait with a 3x3 matrix of partially overlaping photographs and merged them with panorama software into the high resolution image. The paralax, focal inconsistencies and flaws of panorama software[1] significantly determine the visual qualities of the final works which indicates that a technically strict execution would yield the imagery of high visual, cultural and anthropological potential.

I initially tested this procedure with still life in 2006, and in 2007 I made a series of topographic portraits of the students and professors at Syracuse University. They generously volunteered for long posing sessions in which, like in the early portrait photography of the mid-nineteenth century, they strived to retain their posture through all of the 30 shots required to get the 9 working photographs.

I warmly thank John Grunewald, Sarah Howell, Phebe Moulthrop, Patrick Tsao, Stefani Ann Quam, Tracy Lee Dandy, Tyler Main, Dylan Moore, Justin Dillard, Brett Dougherty, Heath Hanlin and Blake Carrington for their kind participation in the project.

  1.  Panoramic photography requires a purpose-made camera or special tripod head, while the panorama software is primarily suited for the shots of distant objects with low paralax.