Sunday, September 27, 2015

LEARNING TO SEE - again. Part 2

Dave 2014

Its not at all surprising that the first flush of photographs were mostly portraits. There is an immense curiosity with the face of other humans. Recognition and familiarity is an important aspect of our willingness to look at other peoples' faces, especially in portraiture. It also seems a suitable way of describing someone, remembering someone or simply showing others what our ancestors looked like.

The portrait certainly has been romanticized, no less in photography. The search for inner meaning has been the focus of many a photographer and critic.

"Sensitive people faced with the prospect of a camera portrait put on a face they think is the one they would like to show to the world... Every so often what lies behind the facade is rare and more wonderful than the subject knows or dares to believe".
Irving Penn

If we remember that our perceptions of people are established through many sources, the portrait is merely an addition to that perception, even if we don't know the person. Our existing knowledge of age, gender, nationality, grooming, fashion, facial expressions and even the way we comb our hair or brush our teeth are reflected in the image as a mirror would.

In addition, as the subject of the photograph, we are somewhat aware of how we might appear to the photographer and the viewer of the photograph.

"Many photographers feel their client is the subject. My client is a woman in Kansas who reads Vogue. I'm trying to intrigue, stimulate, feed her. My responsibility is to the reader. The severe portrait that is not the greatest joy in the world to the subject may be enormously interesting to the reader."

Ken 2010

Many of us will find the honesty of a portrait distasteful, even abhorrent. Others will seek it out and display their finery at every opportunity. At the end of the day, none of this matters to the photographer or viewer, for they will formulate their won opinions and come to their own conclusions as to the nature of the subject.

As an actor might react to a camera under the direction of a script, we can learn to appreciate the value of the portrait in presenting the image we wish to share. The photographer can assist with this if they understand the basics of psychology and vanity. 

"I sometimes find the surface interesting. To say that the mark of a good portrait is whether you get them or get the soul - I don't think this is possible all of the time."

Ultimately, the portrait enables us to know something of the person photographed, even if its merely the form the person represents. But the interaction of the photographer, the photographed and the viewer can only add to this. The portrait is no mystery. There is nothing mysterious about our fascination with other people. In understanding others we hope to gain insight into ourselves.

I'm inclined to thing it's the other way around.

The accordion player  2012

Graham 2013

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