portrait and soft focus lens photography Jack Ledbetter

The Light around the Body

Jack Ledbetter is an intimate of interiors and an aficionado of the female form. Drawing on the tradition of the soft-focus lens, he presents women in vintage spaces—an abandoned schoolhouse, a New England church, a parlor—immersed in light.

These portraits are all about illumination: how sunlight rakes a room or makes a visage luminous. Ledbetter often blurs the edges of his images even as he sharpens the focus. There is radiance here—the “light around the body,” as poet Robert Bly put it.

The poses are frequently classical in nature. A woman in ballet dress stands en pointe, a chair helping her hold the stance. Another appears in a doorway, her body lit up from off stage, as it were.

Ledbetter also knows how to capture persona and personality: the gypsy Emily, the school teacher Hope, the ingenuous Abby. The portrayal often mixes truth and fiction. Rachel in a winter coat seated by an antique desk might be a character from Ethan Frome.

These images hark back to earlier eras. One thinks, for example, of the photographers who pursued the “pictorial effect,” a term historian Beaumont Newhall used to describe the work of Julia Margaret Cameron and other camera artists of the 19th century. Like those practitioners, Ledbetter is obsessed with process, embracing the exigencies of the dark room in his pursuit of the perfect print.

In the end, this master photographer reminds us of the beauty of the female face and figure. These photographs invite the viewer into the company of women set apart and glowing.

old fashioned camera