I wrote last week about removing clutter. In that instance I was speaking compositionally. But in today’s post, I want to speak more to aesthetics and storytelling.
To me, a portrait is all about the face. To you, it may be about something else. But when I make the portrait, I tend to get really tight. As I’ve gotten older, I find myself shooting tighter and tighter – getting rid of just about everything in the photograph but the face.
While the eyes may be the windows to the soul, the face is the gateway to the person behind it.
Pablo Picasso spent plenty of time thinking about and painting faces. He once asked, “Are we to paint what’s on the face, what’s inside the face, or what’s behind it?”
The “what’s behind” the face part is what really interests me. When I make a portrait, and concentrate on the face, I want to cause a reaction between myself, the subject and the viewer. The three of us are involved in an interplay. The subject is hoping that I will represent them in either a truthful or more often, flattering manner. I am hoping to protect a memory of that moment in time. I want to render a photograph of someone that is so well done, it could stand as the last image ever made of that person. The viewer is someone who walks into the middle of this story and decides whether or not they care. Of course the goal is to make sure they do.
And that takes us back to the face. I am not coining some photographic rule here. I am merely articulating the fact that I am at my happiest, when making portraits of people that highlight the face.
The face, properly rendered, can be the truest form of art. So just for fun, consider making your next portrait the way you always do, then, make one more image and really concentrate on the face. Analyze it. Study it. Protect your memory of it with a photograph. I hope you find it as moving an experience as I do.
I’ll leave you with one more thought from a famous World War II photographer, Robert Capa. “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you aren’t close enough.”
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