What are the things that one can possibly read into aphotograph of a face? Hurt.
Anger. Resentment. Peace.
Apprehension. Therereally is no limit. If you are anything like me, you can spend unusually longperiods of time staring at your photographs, earnestly searching for, – andoften finding – things that escaped you in the heat of the moment during theshoot. The model, sporting into a toothily heartwarming smile – she was unusuallyhappy that day.
My assistant, looking worn out, pensive and uneasy: I must havesaid something that left her agitated.The camera picks up on such things though – or so we think.Its ability to be objective and capture everything in front of it without beingpartial to one or more subjects in its field of view; and high shutter speedsthat capture moments the human eye would ordinarily not notice allow it to pickup on underlying streams of emotion, revealing frustrations, surprise, affection,irritation – the whole spectrum of unfiltered emotion. However, doubts inevitablyset in.
Memories from the shoot seem fuzzy and misleading. The model, I nowremember (another snapshot, taken seconds later, reminds me), was unhappy thatday. My assistant was the life of the shoot, handling everything from the musicto making sure the model felt better.I am deeply fascinated by portraiture. I think asuccessful portrait has a powerful emotional or physical aura. It has personality.Nevertheless, I find that, exceptional photographic portraits, are hardly involved with the businessof mind-reading, and only occasionally do they concern themselves in the nuancesof personality. At their best, they are like quiet streams, leading to deeperwaters.
Isobel Crombie, a curator, in describing the work of Bill Henson, oncewrote of “the unending suggestiveness of the face in relation to its own innerdrama”. And in truth, this unending, suggestiveness might as easily be triggeredby the image of a person with their eyes closed as by one whose eyes areenthralling.This idea is what informed my thesis project, titled’windows’ – from the popular saying that the eyes are the windows to the soul.I was less concerned about ‘capturing the personality of the subject’ and moreinterested in the interpretations of the work by its viewers. I was driven bythe curiosity of finding out what range of emotions were communicated todifferent viewers by the work.
Many of the photographs in ‘Windows’ remindme that one can be intimately present and very far away at the same time.Photography, with its haunting combination of a tangible presence markingtemporal loss, is in many ways the ideal medium for showing this.With this project, I felt like there was some distractionfrom the aim of the work.
And with time I realized that the distinctive facialfeatures of the human face in the portraits took away from how I wanted thework to feel. Seeing the entire face at once consequently reveals the identityof the subjects to the viewer, and I came to find that this left no room forambiguity. More often than not, most viewers of the work – on a subconsciouslevel – paid more attention to the facial features of the subject and how theperson looked and less emphasis on the emotion they could feel, or see in thephotograph they were looking at. Introducing some form of ambiguity to the photographs fixedthat and completely changed the feel and direction of the project for thebetter.
I found that minimizing the visibility of most of the facial featuresof the subjects made them less easily identifiable. However, this introducedthe quality of having a strong presence while being distant at the same timeand, ultimately, the ability to evoke emotion in the subject and in the viewer.This was achieved through an experimental development processinspired by Timothy Pakron, a photographer and painter whom I discovered at thestart of my last semester at school. By using the familiarity of the face as thetemplate, the process involved hand painting the developer in the darkroom,intentionally revealing specific, desired features of the face on the print.Doing this creates a blank negative space that gives the portrait a floating characteristic.Rather than creating a traditional, straight from film portrait, I was more concernedwith investigating how the original image can be brought to the surface in differentways. The portraits embody their own strangeness.
I enable the viewer toprocess impressions of a face, and the emotion that is read from it. My job asan artist is to challenge the viewers pre-existing ideas. Make them seedifferently, think differently, and most importantly, feel differently. In myexploration, the defining goal of this project is to create a portrait thatbecomes an experience to view and hopefully have the capacity to pierce ourhearts through emotion.