The Portrait Shooter’s Dilemma

To me, a portrait is an intensely personal interaction between the artist (photographer, painter, sculptor or whatever medium) and the subject. One perceives, the other reveals. It is not a chick pic, or an attempt to beautify, to show someone in the best light, nor is it the use of a model by a photographer to make a conceptual image. Neither is it a picture of a sheep, nor of a person so distant in the image as to be unrecognisable, as recent professional awards competitions would have us believe.

I like grit. One of the things that attracted me to photography in the first place was sports: the athlete at peak performance will often reveal their naked personality.

Avedon famously wanted his subjects to feel uncomfortable: Leibovitz also does not feel the need to make her subjects feel at ease. I won’t go that far: but at some point in a portrait session, the subject should drop the mask. Or at least one of the many masks that we humans wear to disguise our true selves from the cruel world.

Over the last many years I have photographed all kinds of subjects: but if you were to ask me what I most like to photograph, it would be portraits. There is nothing I would like more than to spend an hour with someone and gradually peel some layers off the onion, to reveal something underneath, as in Ibsen’s Peer Gynt. Though hopefully we will not reach the point where we find there is nothing at the core, that we are all layers, a series of masks upon masks, with nothing substantial underneath the final mask.

Of course there are limits. The subject must be complicit in the outcome, or it will never see the light of day. So we will let them shuffle their masks, hoping for an interesting one that they are prepared to show to the world.

That is my dream. Like all dreams, reality intervenes each morning, and we go back to shooting pizza and making it look good.

I like this image. I could do photoshop on it. I could do frequency separation. I could send it off to a retoucher to change it into something that  never was and never will be.

But I won’t.