The photographic portrait and a little more
Have you really looked at the face of the one in front of you? Or at the image of the one near you? At the face of a stranger? At your mother’s face … really, for how long haven’t you seen her face and haven’t not realized that there were several additional wrinkles? You tried, I am convinced, to read on your boss’s face if he is happy or not at the phrase you just said. Or you tried to read in your lover’s eyes if they are indeed glowing when they see you. You probably noticed the visible evil on the face of lady who collects taxes, the aggressiveness behind your car when the traffic lights is not even green. Have you seen kindness in your grandmother’s eyes when she gave you a jar of jam and you had recognized ashamed that anyway you had taken one from the pantry when she didn’t looked? Have you seen your mother’s sad smile when you said that you certainly pass on to her home next week?
Well, if you saw something, if you paid attention to the moment of sincerity of expression, if you caught for a second the man behind the appearances, you managed to do a portrait. Because after all, the portrait is an image. In case of a photo, a picture of a moment. One moment when you have captured something of the man in front of you. I know, that if you attended a photography class, you have been told that the portrait is about light and shadow, scholar construction and studied attitudes, that you have to say everything about the topic in a single photo, that you have to capture the look and that under the nose it should be a well-placed and balanced triangle of shade.
All well and good, clearly you need light else otherwise you don’t see the portrait, you have struggled to arrange hair not to shadow, the makeup was flawless, the man was smiling because you told him a hundred times, but have you thought to try to capture more than a mask? Technique is needed to a great extent, but not far enough. The magazines, especially the fashion ones, are filled with portraits that are perfect from the technique point of view, but don’t awake any feeling in us.
I think when you make a portrait, it must be the one of the person’s, that’s clear, but it should also be about the person. It’s not enough to say “oh, you have blue eyes”… I think you have to read something inside those eyes so blue. That’s because in a portrait you should capture feelings that you can send through photography. Because the man in front of you is not a plastic doll, but a man who loves, hates, suffers, thinks, dreams, jokes, laughs, a man alive. Yes, after all the portrait is a photo about a person alive. A human being.
But not only… the portrait, as Richard Avedon says, is about you, the one who takes pictures. The viewer, after a brief study of the photo, asks himself: what does the photographer wanted to capture here, what was he trying to convey? Yes, a portrait talks about the photographer, speaks about the way he understands the person in front of the camera, about his ability to penetrate beneath the surface and his opinion of the man caught for a second, it finally shows us what the photographer felt regarding a face and trying to understand what is behind it.
A portrait (except self-portrait, of course) is a work in two, raising our mind and (it would not be bad all) in our soul, thoughts about what we see in the picture and about the one who did it. Because the photographer must answer, before starting to work, to the so coherent and simple Picasso’s question: Are we to paint what’s on the face, what’s inside the face or what’s behind it?