Yes. A representation or impression of someone. It’s as simple and as complex as that. For a photographer, a portrait can mean income, or a claim to fame; even some indication of her mood on that particular day. I know that indeed, my mood can influence what I see and capture at any given moment. That translates into emotion. The emotion that we all try to seize and fit into a little frame; an impression.
A portrait is a likeness of someone. Often, the subject does not like the likeness. I know that I don’t often like my own likeness in a photo. What I’m looking for in the portraits of my subjects is not at all what I look for in my own. Until I put some space and time between the moment the shutter clicked and when I see my own image. Then I get it! Just like the way I get it when I edit the pictures I take of others.
What am I looking for in those photos? I seek 1/250th of a second in that person’s life that actually says something true about them. It need not be a smile, or a perfectly exposed image, or even a perfectly composed image. It just needs to jar my memory so I can record exactly what was going on in that brief, brief moment.
As you can imagine, I take a lot of portraits of my family, of my pets and of people I encounter. If they don’t tell me a story about that particular moment in time, I discard them! I want to look at a photo 10 years later and evoke a memory as clear as one hour after it was snapped. I see our crazy puppy, Gus, relentlessly climbing over our very regal 14 year old Jackson; obviously bothered by the unwanted attention. I laugh every time I look at it.
When I look at the image of my two oldest, grown up daughters having a headstand contest in the pool, I can hear them giggling and planning and making rules for the contest, just like when they were little. I look at the women I encountered in New Orleans and I can hear their enthusiastic, unbridled laughter and see how close they must be to one another.
Portraits have no rules, really, they just need to capture an impression that has meaning to you. You can see from the definition that a portrait need not even include a face. Think about your favorite personal portraits. Can you define what it is that draws you in? What made you click the shutter at that moment? I hope so! Please share with me what you look for in a portrait.
Some of my personal faves are here in this post. I hope you enjoy them! If you look, you can even find a portrait of me that I actually like :)