Fayum: Geoffrey Frosh

Geoffrey Frosh, photographer
8×10 inches, platinum-palladium print on Fabriano 5

In a recent interview with photographer, printer and blogger, David Chow, he asked
How do you normally approach taking a portrait of someone? 

A number of specific things have to be present or in place, and this is easy to talk about: atmospherics, equipment, the person. By these I mean the quality of light, the configuration of objects and space, time to make the photograph; quick and fluid access to large format equipment; a willingness to be photographed and a desire to photograph that person. Very few of my photographs are made by appointment, but there are times when I sense that a photograph can be made, and at these times I try to attend to this instinct and keep equipment on hand — even if, after lugging a case of large format equipment around, I don’t touch the gear. Which brings me to the stuff of portraiture that is harder to talk about: anticipating and feeling, harmonizing the relationships between subject and all the visual components of a frame, observing and becoming part of the image. Henri Cartier-Bresson quoted Cardinal de Retz, saying that ‘there is nothing in this world that does not have a decisive moment’, and this has held true for a lot of photographic practice. But another way of considering portraiture is that all relationships swell and ebb, and the photographic portrait comes from  – and to paraphrase de Retz – a most pregnant moment. There is nothing in this world that does not come from a swelling and ebbing process, in other words. So, to put it simply, I make a portrait at that moment that is swelling with feeling. I learned a lot about this from spending time with Rondal Partridge, and studying his mother’s (Imogen Cunningham)* work.


I strongly believe that what makes the Fayumi portraits so enduring and captivating is that they were rendered out of the most pregnant of moments – a consideration of one’s own mortality.


*Cunningham, as a young photographer, was instructed by one of her teachers. Prof. Robert Luther, to only photograph him when she thought he was most deeply concentrating on a mathematical problem. [from Imogen Cunningham, interview with Edna Tartaul Daniel, June 1959, transcript, Regional Oral History Project, University of California, Berkeley, p. 59]. For a great read about her portraits and collection of images, see Richard Lorenz’ wonderful Imogen Cunningham: Portraiture. (Amazon Link)