Snowdon or Cartier Bresson?

I have not reflected deeply on the difference between the various famous photographers of the 20th century. Sean O’Hagan has, and he offers some thoughts for the Guardian about the qualities one finds in the photographs taken by Lord Snowdon.

The piece starts off this way

I don’t want people to feel at ease,” Lord Snowdon once said of his approach to portrait photography. “You want a bit of an edge.” You would be hard pressed, though, to detect that edge in his work, which tended more towards the immaculately ordered, but emotionally detached.

That best comes out  when Snowdon captures ennui – not so much in his images of royals. Indeed, I was not aware of this work.

Snowdon’s artfully composed study of John le Carré also possesses some hint of the edge he sought, the author’s knitted brow and fierce stare exuding a rare suggestion of anger and impatience, while his mirrored profile looks off out of the frame, a more unreadable double who hints at the shapeshifting George Smiley, his most famous, and inscrutable, creation.

This and other works are at the National Portrait Gallery in London.


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