I love shooting portraits. I love the challenge of capturing something in someone that they and the rest of the world can then see. Some people tell me that they love my portaits, But those people are usually the mothers of the subjects.
I have a fantasy that I could create portraits so compelling that people might hang them in their homes, even if they had no idea who the person was.
Can a portrait be fine art? Who wouldn’t want the Mona Lisa hanging in their living room, even if they had never met the old lady? Of course the Mona Lisa is a painting. People do hang photographic images in their home as fine art. But if it’s a portrait, there seems to be a stigma attached.
For example, my daughter framed a candid image she had captured of an old man in Venice, Italy (see first image). You might look at it as a character study, a scene she had found in her travels that resonated with her, an artistic statement. You might, or might not, like it. But most people never even consider it on any of those levels. They usually ask, “Is that her grandfather?”
So I wonder, is it possible to make a photographic portrait that is art? A piece that you might hang in your home even if you didn’t know the person? What are the characteristics that would allow a portrait to transcend its usual role?
I have some ideas. I believe that to be more than a family portrait an image must go beyond the individual. The image has to communicate something about the human condition. It has to tell a story. The image should motivate us to know more about the person, and give us the means to at least attempt to know the person.
But even if my ideas are valid, how would I do that? For example, if an image is less clear, is it easier to generalize? Does the face have to be attractive? Or is it preferable to have a more “interesting” face?
So, I have put together some of my favorite portraits below. Do you think that any of them work as MORE than a family portrait? If so, why? Would you hang any of these in your home? Do you like looking at any of them, even if you don’t know the person?
When I was growing up my mother used to tell me, “You have a face only a mother could love… and even I have trouble.” Could you love any of these faces?