No one is defined by a single image
We all know the line from the fairy tale, “Mirror, mirror, on the wall…” The most humble among us hold at least passing interest in the image we present. Mirrors exist to help us control that image. We check to see if there’s spinach in our teeth, how our hair is styled, whether our choice of clothing enhances our physical perception of ourselves. We look once, then look again, then often a third, fourth, and fifth time because, unlike that of the narcissistic queen, our mirrors do not verbally affirm that we’re looking acceptable.
In similar fashion, we look at portraits to reflect how we looked at a specific point in time. We tend to take more pictures when we’re young because we are more likely to approve of the way we look, the degree to which we perceive that our appearance is sufficiently pretty, handsome, sexy, commanding, or happy. We take fewer pictures as we age because, as the queen feared, our external image may not match how we want others to see us, or how we see ourselves.
When I first examine a set of portraits, out of habit, I look first for that “one” picture that ticks off all the boxes for what makes a good portrait. Sometimes it’s easy to find. Other times, there are several choices as to which best meets the established criteria. In every case, though, we find that it is not one image, but the whole set that is necessary to give us a meager hint into the personality of the person in the portrait. Smiling in one, casual in another, playful in a third, there are so many different aspects to a personality that one image cannot contain them all. A single image captures but a single moment. A gallery captures an experience.
Who we are goes beyond what we see in the mirror, though, or can capture in a portrait. There is depth to our being that is only known by our actions and a single action is only a doorway to understanding one’s full character. So, we process images in different ways: color, black-and-white, simple, elaborate, contemporary, or traditional. Each one shows something different about the subject, an additional layer of depth, another hint at their personality.
Yet, even if there were a way to stack them all together, the picture would still be incomplete. No matter how many times one looks in the mirror, there are still things we miss, details others catch that we cannot or will not see in ourselves. The way our smile reveals how we’re feeling. That look in our eyes that betray our fears. The way we tuck one foot behind another in case we need to leave a situation quickly. The firmly-set jaw when we’re determined to succeed. We are complex individuals and a single image never tells more than part of the story.
I fought against making all this week’s photos black-and-white. They would have looked incredible in that format. Yet, what I realized is that doing so ultimately de-emphasized who this person is, their humanity and their personality. Having shot the images on a plain white background, more than one black-and-white felt too flat. So, we went different directions, exploring different themes, creating different emotions.
This is one of the critical points of departure between photography and painting. A painter has one shot and must try in that one shot to cram not only a story but its backstory and possibly even a conclusion all into a frame of pre-defined size. As photographers, we can spread out that task, create more depth overall by doing less with each one. That’s not to say we’re always successful or that one medium excels over another. We do our best and it remains to the viewer to determine whether our work was adequate.
So, if you will, consider each of the images this week as a different facet of the same diamond. There are only ten pictures so you’re still not getting the full portrait. They are incomplete hints at person and personality, each fair and beautiful, but each different in what it shows us.
Click on any of the thumbnails below to view the image full screen. My thanks again to Greg Fleckenstein and Matt Corsaro for their assistance in the studio. Enjoy.