Pyke is one of a select few photographers who works with The New Yorker. So what kind of photographic visual language does he bring to the magazine? ”I’m brought specifically because of the style of photographic portrait that’s quite ‘up front,’ that’s closest,” says Pyke. “The way I physically work is to work in this really close space. I get into a space that most people only get into with their loved ones. They have to face certain things.”
But at the heart of all this is the issue of whether a portrait actually reveals anything. Recalling her time spent working with Norman Parkinson, Johnson says, “Parkinson always said portraiture was magic and he always said he had no control over the magic and gremlins in his camera. But he was a very fanciful person, very fun and light.” Steigbigel argues that portraiture for photographers such as Richard Avedon and Diane Arbus “was a quest for their own identities through the faces of all these people who they were intrigued by and curious about. For every picture they took, they were trying on a different hat, or seeing whether that hat fit. I think every picture was a portrait of the sitter but also really a portrait of the photographers themselves – it’s definitely self-expression,” says Steigbigel. For Pyke, taking portraits is also a route to knowing himself. “I would absolutely stand by that,” he says. “You learn something about yourself in every session.”
So whose identity, then, is the portrait revealing? Both Pyke and Agius see the portrait process as opening up a moment of revelation, a mixture of conversation and therapy. “I’m not interested in celebrity,” says Agius. “I’m interested in people. It is a ‘therapy.’ Quite often with actors it’s very difficult to find a personality there. A lot of actors are very insecure – it’s very easy for them to be someone else and something else. I’ve done shoots with people – you ask these things of them and they give them to you. I’ve had people cry, genuinely find that place, and it’s not acting, it’s real.”
For Pyke, the session is simple. “Conversation goes on – they are photographs of conversations,” he says. “You get some understanding of each other, and at some point a camera is introduced. I start to photograph them and we continue to have this conversation.” Nevertheless, it’s the photographer who has the last word, who captures the moment in an image.