What is portraiture? Before taking photography seriously, I never would have used this word. And even during the time when I was photographing professionally, I would have only said that I shoot people. Maybe it was simply because portraiture demanded more from the photographer and I wasn’t going to be pinned to the term. Or maybe because the glamour photography that I was doing was not what I considered to be portraiture. I never categorized my work to such detail. I was shooting human and I was interested in form, texture, and of how light fell onto the body and face.
For me, the face, if it was to be in the photograph, must be natural, and the expression had to come from the heart, not the head. It makes a lot of difference in the end and I can see through an image for what it is, and for what it’s not. I think now, after shooting as much as I have on the face and body, I have a better idea of what the word portraiture is about, and it has to do with a realm of photography that I find very challenging, yet exciting. It is not easy, but for some reason, I find it very natural.
Every person I photograph is different in how I approach a shoot. Some need time and a great deal of patience. And others, I just need a moment or two. Photographing the essence of a person requires trust and vulnerability. Trust because this person who holds the camera up to you might be then asking you to take do something, or photograph a side of you that you might not consider flattering, or maybe it’s because I am asking you to be yourself, and many people, haven’t a clue as to who they are. And vulnerability because there has to be something there fragile in that giving of one’s self the scrutiny of the camera, to the person on the other side, may it be me, or you. Vulnerability is a desired trait in the shooting session, as only then, that we can get inside the person.
But what if we have a photograph whereby the model looks directly into the lens, with intent, with conviction in his or her eyes? I believe we then move onto portraiture, whereby the individual character or persona becomes a part of the photography. This is where I feel my photography becomes very interesting, because the photography is both about the acceptance of the individual for who he/she is, for their inner being, and for what their body is. There is no detachment or separation of the body/persona connection. What I particular find engaging is if the person I am shooting will allow their ‘self’ to be what it is, and if their facial expression is at complete ease with the photographer. The eyes, again, are the tell-tale sign of that acceptance. A third element that fascinates me even more is when there is a feeling of vulnerability in your subject/model’s eyes. Vulnerability because the model has offered him or herself to you, and to their audience. They have bared of their self for you, to enter their private world. This is the kind of portraiture that excites me. It is not about control on my part, but on the models’.
Many people ask if they can come to my photography sessions to learn, to see what I do. And how is that I can capture the human body the way I do. Frankly, I don’t do much, except set up the lighting and shoot. I pretty well leave most of the work to the model. I let the model decide what they want to project to me. Tell me what you want to say! And I’ll try to photograph it.
What most people then don’t have a clue about, is in editing and deciding what to do with the photographs after a shoot. I have told my students to take many photographs of whoever it is, and decide later when editing, what is a good photograph, or a bad one.
Forget about the photo-shop manipulation. Just pick out the ones that strike your eye as good. We have a thing called a computer and software that makes it all so easy for us. Then go back and re-edit!
When I find a photograph I really like, the image will speak to me. What it says is nothing about how I photographed the work, or what I did to make that image look right. It transcends description of how the light falls so ever gently onto a person’s face, or of how the posing was so good and that the model great. When a photograph is ‘right’, there are no words to describe the process or behavior of elements that make up for what it is. All too often we have to justify why an image is good. The only reason we need to say so it to prove or validate ourselves (or others). And we need to qualify our own needs for who we are as long as the photo satisfies a part of my intellectual, emotional and spiritual psyche. I hope you see some of that I share.
Of course, I am talking about photographs that are meant for personal usage, when you have control over what you think looks good, and you have to please no one else. Only then, will you have developed a ‘style’ to what you do. Not everyone will agree or like what you do, but be open to honest, good criticism.