Monday, August 19, 2013

The Contemplative Portrait....

   I will continue the discussion of photographic subject matter by looking at the portrait.  Although most of the images on this blog are landscape and still life, I have, in fact, done many portraits.  My series, First Person Rural: a portrait of a Maine town was a four year effort to created contemplative portraits of my friends and neighbors in my small Maine town.  You can view a few of the portraits in the folio of the same name on the right.

   Portraits can either be staged and formal (like your high school yearbook picture) or informal and candid.  Neither forms are necessarily "contemplative" in nature.  I recently saw the video biography of Annie Leibovitz, who is the reigning queen of the staged portrait.  Her images are insightful and evocative but certainly not contemplative.

   This portrait of a little boy was made on a bus in Japan.  I had no intention, when I boarded the bus, of making a portrait but when I sat down across the aisle from this mother and child I was transfixed.  The light from the window was lovely and I was enthralled by the mothers long white gloves.  Japanese women do not like "tanned" skin so cover up with gloves and  umbrellas when they are out in the sun.  The little boy was clearly ready for a nap.  I asked politely, in my very broken Japanese, if I could make a photograph of her and her son and she agreed.

   The resulting portrait reminds me of the Madonna and Child images I love from the Renaissance and speaks to the tender relationship between the two. It is a universal and immensely contemplative theme. When I worked on it later in Photoshop, I was careful to darken the edges, obscuring the mothers face, to focus the viewers attention on the mother's hands and arms and, of course, the child.  I must admit I was thinking a lot about Rembrandt's portraits when I was working on this image.  I love the way his figures seem to come out of the darkness and are only partially illuminated.

   Contemplative portraits have to speak directly to the heart of the viewer.  They must be more than a mere rendering of physical characteristic but an intimate study of character and emotion...a portrait of the soul.  I love the monochrome image for my portraits.  Someone once said that color portraits showcase the sitter's and white images showcase their soul.  I think I would agree with that.

1 comment:

The Mad-Eyed Monk said...

I love this portrait!! Beautiful. Thank you for the information and wonderful post...God Bless