We may assign photographic smiles to four different classes, only one of which is pictorially tolerable.

First, there is what is known as the zizzy smile. I include no illustration of the pure type of the zizzy smile, but thousands of examples may be found in screen magazines and tooth-paste advertisements. It is joyless and violent—a veritable explosion of incisors and bicuspids.

Then there is the grudging smile. This is also too familiar to require demonstrating. It results when the photographer insists on a smile and the bedeviled subject finally yields to the extend of lifting an upper lip in a perfunctory grimace that does not conceal the resentment smoldering in the eyes.

Third, there is the solar-plexus smile.. Or, by analogy with that fine phrase “belly laugh,” it might be called the “belly smile”. This, unlike those described above, is a natural and spontaneous expression, a sudden overflowing of animal joy. (Figure 19.) With an ebullient model a smile of this sort is readily obtained. Unfortunately, although it is actually spontaneous and sincere, the excess and suddenness of this smile cause it to have a violent “zizzy” quality. The sense of restraint and control, so necessary to pictorial representation, is missing.

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When thought, action, or animation is implied, it is generally demanded that the head be tipped. Note that the head is tipped in Figure 10 (Windblown), although the angle is full-face. The animation of the expression, the swing of the hair, all require that the head be tipped. If this picture is framed with the features vertical, it immediately becomes stiff and uncomfortable, and at the same time loses a certain feminine delicacy.

William Mortensen, The Model: A Book on the Problems of Posing (1937), p. 30

The Spanish Main

The Spanish Main is a thorough-going example of the picture of explicit drama. It is just the sort of moment and just the sort of interpretation that one sees in movie stills. It is, to repeat the distinction made above, a picture of drama rather than a dramatic picture. The emotion is violent and thoroughly literal in its representation. There is little or no hint of any pantomimic quality. The violent contortions of the models stir in the beholder only a mild and condescending sort of interest. The action is of the frozen type that the candid camera secures. There is division of interest because action and reaction are presented simultaneously.

William Mortensen, The Model: A Book on the Problems of Posing (1937), p. 178


Eyes so turned than they show a large glint of white suggest one of the subversive emotions—suspicion, jealousy, flirtation, or fear, and they should not be so displayed unless some such thought is meant to be conveyed (Figure 16). In portraits it is usually essential that the eyes be shown; but in pictures with the emphasis on the plastic qualities, particularly in nudes, an advantageous impression of impersonality is gained by downcast eyes.

William Mortensen, The Model: A Book on the Problems of Posing (1937), p. 34

Corpus Delicti

Generally the inexperienced photographer is embarrassed and surprised on discovering how unmanageable an apparently compliant model can be. Like someone who has incautiously committed a murder, he is left with an awkward corpus delicti on his hands, a certain amount of flesh which he must dispose of gracefully, but which, in his mounting panic, becomes increasingly unmanageable with his every desperate effort to do something with it.

Perhaps he has heard that natural poses are the best. So he may attempt a laissez-faire attitude and let nature take its course in the matter of posing. But he soon learns that, photographically at least, Nature is an unpleasing, stupid, lumpy, blowsy wench. The artist in any medium is unhappily compelled to cope with the damnable perversity of things, but none so much as the photographer is aware of the utter uncooperativeness and the implacable stubbornness of Nature. The painter may adjust perspectives and warp arms and legs into attitudes that are more becoming or compatable with his design. But the photographer must take things as they are. The arms and legs that he deals with are flesh and bone, and are uncompromisingly unmalleable.

The photographer with a model is a Creator with a little bit of Chaos. He must learn the Word that will give it form.

William Mortensen, The Model: A Book on the Problems of Posing (1937), p. 16

Lay Figure

Mortensen designates Figure 1 as a “lay figure.” For the purposes of his modeling book, the live model Mary Jones will be regarded merely as a lay figure—“A more delicately articulated lay figure, no doubt, but needing just as much mechanical adustment” (20-21). You see, “Mary is just as disorganized physically as the manikin here illustrated. We are not for a moment concerned with what Mary thinks or feels, but merely with the mechanical adjustment and plastic relationships of her articulated members” (21).

The difficulty I have with this is that I can’t help but thinking the poor “lay figure” has slipped upon the ice. It appears to me that something is broken, so she might have great difficulty articulating her members.

The Model


The aim of this book is to give the student of photography some basis for self-criticism in his posing and arranging of the model. The basis of this criticism is necessarily largely negative—as all worthwhile and useful criticism of creative work is bound to be. It is only weaklings and incompetents who plead for “constructive criticism.” The constructive, positive part of any art-work must be furnished by the artist-pupil himself. The instructor or critic cannot “constructively” criticize a student’s picture or story or symphony without, in effect, doing the work that the student should do. It is true that a presentable picture (or story, or symphony) may be thus produced: but it will be, fundamentally, the teacher’s accomplishment.

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