Portrait photography is about capturing – as close as one can while acknowledging the distance that always exists between perception and reality (even when a camera is not involved) – the essence of a person. I've photographed friends, relations, acquaintances and strangers and for each I try to grab a moment that reveals something of their emotions, their story or their personality. It goes beyond mere documentation – although capturing the striking, idiosyncratic and charming aesthetics of someone's face is, of course, constantly at play in portrait photography too.
Maybe I'm not explaining it too well. Let me break it down a little. Here are six reasons why I love portrait photography.
Portrait photography focuses on the individuality of each person photographed. Physicality, yes, but also emotion and, dare I say it, spirit. With careful composition, lighting and interaction, we can bring out the unique qualities that make each person extraordinary. Every portrait is part of an individual's story.
Connection and trust
One of the most rewarding aspects of portrait photography is the opportunity to establish a connection with the people I photograph. Building trust and rapport allows subjects to feel comfortable and open. Establishing a genuine connection with subjects enables a photographer to capture more authentic moments. However brief, it can be a moving experience to sit with someone, photographing them. As Annie Leibovitz said, "A thing that you see in my pictures is that I was not afraid to fall in love with these people."
Faces are a canvas of emotions. Through subtle gestures, expressions and body language, portrait photographs tell stories that resonate with viewers. Partly, that's due to recognising something of themselves in the subject of the image.
Portrait photography is a powerful storytelling tool. By seeking to capture someone's essence we, in some way, highlight the journey that has brought them to this point, the moment of pressing the shutter. And, as we know, a photograph also contains within it traces of the future – the narrative that continues outside of the frame after the image has been taken. A single moment can often tell – or suggest – a complex story.
Portrait photography extends beyond capturing the essence of others; it offers a unique opportunity for self-discovery and self-expression through self-portraits. By turning the camera towards ourselves, we embark on a journey to explore our own identities and emotions. I've not always particularly enjoyed being photographed, but turning my own camera on myself has made my appreciate all the more the relationships I have with others whose portraits I have taken.
Sebastião Salgado once said, "I think a photograph is a memory that stays forever, and to be honest, I can't remember my life without photography." Portrait photography plays a significant role in preserving the legacies of ourselves and others, providing a tangible connection to the past. From reminiscing over images of our youth, to bearing witness to moments in people's lives that may have shaped their history, a portrait photograph can be an important part of memory.
Through portraits, I find – and relish – connection with others. Because I see not just their physical presence, but their story too.