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LIFE: John Loengard Portraits


In a painting no one complains that the subject is posed, but everybody complains about what looks posed in a photograph. Except, I’ve found that if I go very close in to the face, then the posed expression no longer exists. The face becomes a landscape of the lakes of the eyes and the hills of the nose and the valley of the cleft of the chin.

I was photographing the photographer Brassaï. He had very prominent eyes, like a frog’s. As I focused my lens, he brought his hand up and pretended to focus his eye. It was a joke, but it added mystery to the picture. There’s a sense of action in a very small world. Or with Allen Ginsberg there were people smoking cigarettes and in the smoke there’s a sense of motion. It makes much out of very little.

When I go to photograph somebody, they say, “What do you want me to do?” Those are the most frightening words in the English language. I want to say, “Please, go over into good light and do something unusual.”

(Interview on May 22, 1993. Excerpted from: John Loengard, LIFE Photographers: What They Saw, Boston, A Bullfinch Press Book, 1998)

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