What is portrait photography all about anyway?

I think it's about preserving what we love now to enjoy in future time.  This is one of the images that resonates that concept for me on several levels.  This is a portrait of a fireman/father and his young daughter.  He's in great physical shape.  She's adorable.  Both will change over time.  But this moment, captured in the amber of digital will not change.  It locks in what it was to be then.  How it was to look like that in the moment.  (taken with a Kodak DCS 760 camera and a Nikon 85mm lens. ISO 80).  Even the attribute of it's digital heritage is locked into an historical context.
This young boy must be twenty by now.  But this image locks him into the middle of the 1990's in a profound way.  Taken for a United Way campaign and later given to his parents as a gift it's a print the captures the transient joy of childhood in a genuine way, unadulterated by the cares of the time.  He is real and this reality of him will remain forever in the continuum of time past.
This image of Rene Zellweger is a testimony to what she looked like as a young woman.  Now you can see how she has aged just by going to a movie theater.  But this image is proof that she looked this way at one time in her life and it was this look that was critical to launching everything for her that came after that day.  And this image is a permanent marker of a time past.
 And this is how a young Russian girl presented herself to the world on the Spanish Steps in Rome in 1995.  And now it's part of the visual history of my career and a monument to my pleasure at shooting in the street.  But what do all these portraits really mean?  In my mind it's all about capturing the beauty and truth or beauty or truth that you come across as you float through life and add to your stack of aesthetic knowledge.  Just as it's often said that "we stand on the shoulders of giants" to pay homage to the people who broke ground before us, each image we take forms a continously shifting and growing foundation both for our relationships with people and our growth as visual artists.

It's a reminder that we are the curious ones who want to show the world, "Look how beautiful or strange or magical this image is.  It was a time.  It happened and it affected the forward passage of time and reality. Even if just by an infinitesimal fraction of time and space.  It's proof of a reality.  Mine.  Yours.  Ours.  Tis the season......


Anonymous said...

Your post reminds me of a Duane Michals photograph (with lengthy, handwritten caption, as is his wont) of a couple sitting on a bed hugging. The caption says something like: "This is my proof that she loved me once." See, portraits can be done in this backwards-thinking-in-advance mode that you also describe and they serve a dire need of man in the face of his own and his nearest, loved one's mortality. But they can also be exploratory, surprising. But perhaps that is more the photojournalistic mode, not the way of the studio portrait.

Nathan Black said...

For me good portraiture is about falling in love with someone in that fleeting moment. Having an honest and real connection however brief.

One of my early inspirations in photography was my friend Celesta Danger. She took a picture of me and I thought "That is how I would like to think I look." The photo wasn't dressed up or fancy, it was just a good honest portrait.

Curt Schimmels said...

I love portraiture, especially of the environmental nature.

As mere one-way travelers though the fourth dimension (time), a photograph is an outpost along the way, a mile marker in time. The difference for us is that while we can always drive by the same mile marker along a road, we can never navigate our way back to that time. Thus, the photograph is indelible proof that we've traveled that road.

Merry Christmas to you, and your family!

Unknown said...

Love your articles, they always make me think and feel at the same time. I'm dipping my toe into portraiture, hoping to freeze some moments people will be happy to look upon in the future.