Whether or not a portrait is good is a matter of your intention going in...

It's the weekend and it's quickly racing to a close. I'm trying to make lists of things I need to do in the upcoming week but I keep getting stuck on the line on the list where I've written:

"Make an interesting portrait this week."

It's a little unsettling that I feel the need to write that down but at the same time we humans tend to get wrapped up in the minute by minute drama we sometimes construct for our lives and forget the bigger things that make it all worthwhile. One of the requirements, in order to make each week a good week, is to at least try and make a good portrait. Not technically good; I've long since been disinterested in that, but whimsically good. Or dramatically good. Or connection-rich good.

When I make a portrait I like there are several responses that I usually feel. One response is to find the image funny and that, in itself, is endearing in a photograph. If it's just the right kind of portrait I find myself feeling infatuated with the subject. Like having a crush.

Some images create a nostalgia for a time or place that was never really mine. And some portraits lie to me and make me think that I have some insight or awareness about the person I've made the portrait of when really, it's just me creating that response from the visual stimulation I've created.

I know a portrait works when I don't mind having it on the wall in front of me for years and years at a time. But, of course, I can never know that now. I can only know that in a future now.

A portrait is an emotional trophy when the subject says, "You capture exactly how I feel."

And you know it's a great portrait when you make extra prints because you could never bear to lose the image and you want to be certain that you have replacements, just in case.

I don't think "making an interesting portrait" ever starts with the thought: "I would like to explore this kind of lighting or that kind of lighting technique this week and I'll need a subject."

And I don't think "making an interesting portrait" ever starts with the desire to see how sharp my new lens is, or how superior my new camera might be in relation to all the many cameras that came before.

If you set out to solve a technical problem there's a small chance that the part of your brain that makes emotionally connected images will grab your bossy technical brain from behind and tie it up and make you do art before that smug and analytical tech brain busts free and gets everything back "on the right track."

I use the tools of my craft to show how beautiful the person in front of my camera is. I try not to use the beauty of the person in front of my camera to show how cool my expensive toys are...

"Make an interesting portrait this week." Is on my to-do list every week. I don't always get to it. I don't always have what it takes. But I leave it on my list to remind me that it's worth trying.


Anonymous said...


Bill Bresler said...

That just might be my all-time favorite Kirk Tuck portrait.