Assignment brief - … take (a photograph of) one person as a subject and create between five and seven different portraits.
Painting, picture, drawing, sketch, likeness, image, study, miniature, portrayal, representation, depiction, impression, account, profile. Oxford Thesaurus.
Representation of a person or animal, esp. of the face, made by drawing, painting, photography, etc. Oxford Concise Dictionary.
Dr. Cynthia Freeland in her book “Portraits and Persons” discusses a similar process whereby she and her mother, hunt through some photographs of her grandmother and when her mother asks ‘Isn’t this one just really her?’1 Freeland writes “(I) knew exactly what she meant….. the photographer had caught some essential truth about her expression….” Daughter and granddaughter were equally convinced that this was “the” photograph.
I tend to favour Brilliant’s view, inasmuch as a sitter will adopt a pose, whether prescribed or not by the artist. A viewer perusing a portrait of any person, known or unknown, can only judge the "air" by their emotive response to the image in view. Seeing, for example, the Mona Lisa, the age old questions arise about smile, who and why?There has been a lot said about this lady, though no-one has definitively said what this portrait says about the model. Da Vinci hasn't elaborated and is unlikely to do so now. So we are left to derive for ourselves whether it is a smile, and if so, what is she smiling at?
I have struggled with this concept that a (single) portrait can capture an essential truth, some expression of the “soul” of the person being portrayed, either as a painted or more specifically photographed portrait.
The first pass at a “portrait” of Mark was done a few weeks ago – I had a few things in mind – son, father, husband, musician – different traits of a young man that I hoped I could depict. Most of the images I had in mind seemed to work and I have added a few more. To test my theory I printed the images chosen for this assignment and sought answers from people. I can’t say that this process is in any way scientific, the sample size is way too small, but the findings are as below and interesting only as far as they go. The photographs that I added were the husband and wife shot, the brother shot, the hand shot. I asked everyone the same question; “pick out one photograph that shows the “air” of Mark, his “essence”. I said that no-one could pick more than one – it did produce some interesting conversations!
The first person I asked was his mother, my wife. Isn’t it true “no-one knows her son better than his mother”?? Well Alison’s choice was number 4. Closer still to the subject (at least to a different side) is probably his wife, Natalie chose 6. Nana chose 9, Granddad chose 8, Grandma chose 6, Auntie Lynn chose 4, Cousin Helen chose 1. I did ask Mark himself and for interest only, it was also 6 – his choice will be discounted as choosing your own “air” smacks of self delusion. I jest. I did not choose as I have the full back catalogue in my possession and can peruse at will.
Mmm, not entirely convincing evidence for the Freeman argument, that “a” photograph could provide an essential image that conveyed the “air” of a subject. These were all “close family”. I may ask people who have never seen Mark, whether the same question and see at least whether any of them choose the majority shot.
A photographic portrait is a limited tool to deliver a sitter’s personality, but a series could possibly do so. The range of shots of Mark cover certain aspects of his life, display some of his character.
1/2/3 - Portraits and Persons – Cynthia Freeman – OUP 2010 p42,43/64/69
4 - Face. The new photographic portrait - Thames and Hudson, William A Ewing, 2008, p106
5 - Portraiture - Richard Brilliant - Reaktion - 1991, p89