What is a portrait?
Is it ‘the truth’ about someone? Is it a lie?
Does a portrait really have the power to show us someone’s soul?
Does the ‘authentic’ portrait even exists?
Can others ‘see’ the same I see, on a portrait I made of someone?
Am I actually showing what I am intending to show or am I just seeing what I want to see in an image?
Do I really say more with my portraits than a simple random photo, shot with a smartphone, by a stranger asked on the street?
Or am I just pretending I do?
These are some of the questions I make to myself when editing a portrait session. It is often even worse, I can assure you. It usually ends up in introspective thoughts about my own existence and my skills and what I want to mean in life.
But seriously, that introvert time alone observing the photos I made, staring at the still face of someone I just met in person to take their pictures. Thinking on how can I make them look as accurate as possible. Trying to grab, from a complex bunch of pixels and colours, the bright in his/her eyes when I discovered them talking to me with such honesty.
If someone came to this room now and looked at the screen, they would see the photo of the person that I spent one hour with. The person that was talking to me, who I laughed with, in whose face I examined the light so shamelessly, sometimes even making them feel uncomfortable. It is obviously their photo, but to me that is not enough. When taking their portraits what I pursuit is to be able to capture that passion they feel for the things they love, the essence of their particular being. And not only to be able to capture it, but being able to show it to other people.
Yes yes, all that sounds so much as a cliché and I know it’s cheesy. So let’s take a more realistic view:
I know that one’s soul can’t be captured in a photo, especially because the photo is made of whites and blacks, gradations and colours in between. So how could we capture a soul (if it exists) on it? That’s right, we can’t!
Then: why do I feel like I am not satisfied with all the photographs I make and my eyes only spots one of them, that seems special to me. Is it the light? Yes it could be. Is it the smile or the attitude? Yeah, possibly. But most of all, it is the eyes. The eyes are my start and my end in a photograph. I try to examine them and to choose the photo that shows me that special bright I saw in them when in person.
I know I am not the first coming out with this idea but, I wish I was able to take photographs with my eyes! Because the moment when a person speaks to me, with no fear to show me their emotions, the moment when they forget they are being documented in photographs and they can talk about what they most love to do or what makes them passionate. That moment their faces change, they don’t realise or make it on purpose, but their face draws a beautiful subtle smile. If they look at you right in the eyes, you can feel that energy, it’s just indescribable. And then you’d think: “I got you!” and you point the camera to them, trying to catch this magic. But the moment they see the camera, they strike a pose and that bright changes. If I am lucky I can capture those glimpses of real emotions showing up for a millisecond. If I am lucky I can find that bright later on when I am selecting the images I am gonna edit. If I am lucky!
Ok, we went to the cheesy side again, sorry. I tend to get excited with the topic.
Being technical: a portrait would be a representation of a person. Yes, I agree. But then the photo taken by uncle Hans in the yard during the neighbour’s barbecue is also a portrait? Yes.
So why am I trying so hard? I don’t even know! I just want to be able to make the most accurate representation of the reading I have of someone. Not even what they actually ARE (because we are so so many things in life that it’s impossible to capture all of them in just one photograph), but who they seem to be in that exact moment TO ME.
So I guess a portrait is the selfish interpretation, of a person, made by the photographer. When doing a portrait, we can make many different representations of one person, it will continue being the same person. When they see their picture, hopefully it will have the same meaning to themselves or to the people they know: an accurate portrait.
I guess my interpretation tries to show emotions, not in facial gestures, but in the eyes, with calm expressions.
I don’t want to be distracted away from a person’s eyes. Nor do I want you, or anyone, to be distracted
Look at them for yourself. Aren’t they beautiful?
Taking a portrait seems easy! Doesn’t it?