Fifty-five years may have passed, but this little Irish girl is still boring holes through the photographer with her eyes. If you dare subject yourself to her knowing scrutiny you may do so at The Getty‘s exhibit of portrait photography entitled In Focus, but you will have to make your way to that lofty Los Angeles art museum before June 14, 2009.
Show up so much as one second beyond that strict cutoff date and the great Getty doors will be slammed shut against you and there you will stand in outer darkness, whimpering in despair like the five foolish virgins who ran out of oil. On the other hand. Arrive promptly, as did my daughter and I today, and you will see Dorothea Lange’s 1954 photograph “Young Girl in Ennis, Ireland” in all it’s gelatin silverprint glory, its perfect gradations sullied by neither screening for print nor digitizing for flatscreen display. And it won’t be murderously cropped top and bottom as it appears here atop this post.
You may also view a rare daguerreotype of Edgar Allen Poe, and Cecil Beaton’s ice-cold portrait of Marlene Deitrich, and a Matthew Brady mumblesomethingotype print of President Lincoln fidgeting next to his anxious body guard, Allen Pinkerton, and many other portraits by photographers both famous like Avedon or anonymous like someone other than Avedon.
The oldest picture — frazzled Mr. Poe — dates from the gold-strike year of 1849, the most recent from 1986. But they are not arranged in anything like chronological order. It’s not history. The focus is on the people — subject, photographer, viewer — who make a picture a portrait.
Here is a photo portrait that wasn’t in the gallery. It didn’t even exist until we took the elevator down to the parking garage on our way out of the Getty: