Portraits, Still Video Portraits and the Account of the Soul

Joanna Lowry

Research output: Chapter in Book/Conference proceeding with ISSN or ISBNChapter


The essay considers the phenomenon of the still video portrait and its relationship to the construction of subjectivity in contemporary culture. Taking Diderot’s idea that ‘our soul is a moving tableau which we depict unceasingly’ and Benjamin’s reflections upon Hill and Adamson’s portrait of the Newhaven Fishwife as a starting point , the essay discusses the relationship between absorption, performance and time in the portrait. It then goes on to reflect upon the way in which temporality is embedded in specific technologies and the impact of such an embedding upon the ontology of the subject. The still video portrait raises interesting questions because of the way in which it constructs a space of the visible within which subjects can perform themselves in time. Through analysing the still video portraits of Fiona Tann and Thomas Struth Lowry suggests that such work offers a new enchantment with the provisionality and fragility of the pose and with the alternation between absorption and performance. It provides an architecture of space and time within which the subject can be encountered – a discourse of visibility and distance across which we read the account of the soul.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationStillness and Time: Photography and the Moving Image
EditorsJoanna Lowry, David Green
Place of PublicationBrighton UK
Number of pages14
ISBN (Print)1903796180
Publication statusPublished - 2006

Bibliographical note

The essay appears in a collection of essays, co-edited by Green and Lowry, on the theme of the relationship between photographic theory and theory of the moving image. The collection responds to the convergences between still and moving technologies by suggesting that we need to consider these relationships not only at the level of the technologies themselves but at a phenomenological level, considering how they produce the very parameters through which we experience temporality. The collection includes a number of papers that were given at a conference called 'Stillness and Time' held by Photoforum at the University of Kent in 2003. Contributing authors are: David Green, Mary Ann Doane, Jonathan Friday, Yve Lomax, Joanna Lowry, Kaja Silverman, David Campany, John Stezaker, Garrett Stewart, Laura Mulvey, and Victor Burgin


  • still video portrait
  • photographic portrait
  • pose
  • performance
  • absorption
  • temporality
  • Benjamin
  • Fiona Tann
  • Thomas Struth


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