Portraits

Generally speaking, sunsets and seagulls and so forth don't need to be asked before you photograph them. They do their momentary aurora impersonation or flap idly by unaware (I assume) of any concept of photography or of beauty for that matter. People are another issue entirely. For me photography is, as I have said on another occasion, about awareness. I go out with a camera and immediately I am disciplined to be aware; to leave self behind and try to be present to what is around me. It is a personal thing, and a spiritual exercise. As soon as you take a photograph of another person, however,  there are at least two people involved: the one in front of the camera and the one behind it, and both have an investment in whatever results from pushing the shutter. My interest in taking photographs is to try and capture what I see. The interest of most of the people being photographed most of the time is not what I see, but how they wish other people to see them.

Sometimes these interests coincide. I took the photograph above, of Catherine and Bridget at my nephew Hamish's wedding in 2007: In all the land there were no women so beautiful as Job's daughters (Job 42:17) but I think I could give Job a pretty fair run for his money.  The picture captures something I see in both my girls: not just their beauty, but also their intelligence, poise, self assurance, openness and I could go on and on but I am their father after all and you don't need my bragging. Further, it captures something of the very special relationship they have with each other and I know that both of them like the picture because they have both displayed it and used it from time to time. But making such a pleasing portrait is a rare thing, and again I think the issue is essentially spiritual.

The persona: the self I project to the world is something I have a huge investment in. My persona is, after all,  all that stands beween the me that I work so hard to keep hidden and the prying eyes of all those around me whose opinions of me matter so desperately.  I have read a few books and articles about portrait photography in the last week or two and it seems to me that for most people, most of the time, portrait photography is abpout the persona. Taking a portrait usually starts with the question, "Why are you wanting this picture? To display on the wall of the family home? for a CV? For a lover? For a grandmother? In other words, what is the sittter hoping to project and to whom? The photographer's role is to help in this harmless - maybe even therapeutic - deception. A skilled portrait photographer can of course manage at the same time to convey something of the true nature of the subject, as in this famous portrait of Alfried Krupp by Arnold Newman, or pretty much anything by Annie Liebowitz Portraiture is perhaps the most technically demanding form of photography. Lighting is crucial and requires a certain amount of manipulation. This requires equipment and a level of expertise that I don't currently possess, though I am quite confident I could come by it if I put my mind to it.

In the end, I suppose it is about relationships. I take a photo of a row of pilings on a summer's evening with Green Island just visible on the horizon and the picture is a capture of what I see , but more importantly, a capture of how I relate to what I see. I take a picture of my daughters and what is on display is not just my lovely girls, but how I feel about them and relate to them.  I sometimes take passport photos for people. Like anybody else, I make the whanau line up and grin inanely on Christmas and birthdays. But to capture what I really see in people; to capture how I relate to what I see in people is not quite so easy; but seeing as I am surrounded on every hand by wonderful and photogenic people, I am becoming more and more interested in giving it a go.

Comments

Bridget said…
Love you Dad x
Verna said…
Kelvin - what a brilliant photo. I think you do give Job a run for his money although there are no photos of Job's daughters but they couldn't look more beautiful than Catherine and Bridget do in your masterful photo. I agree that it is not just physical - and spiritual is the word - ther is a presence in each of them and thus in the photo - which shines forth.