Snapshots: Portraiture

Snapshots: Portraiture

I had a fascinating conversation today with a friend who recently had to redo the floors in her home, prompting her to essentially move everything she owns. This of course turned into a downsizing project she faced with such head-on determination that even Marie Kondo would be impressed. In the midst of our conversation, she mentioned that she was so motivated by decluttering her things that she went through images she took on a recent trip and deleted the ones that weren't really special. You know, those pictures we take because we're trying to capture a moment that's really not capturable?

As far as I'm concerned (and I'm pretty minimalist in my approach to life) this was a whole new level of introspection on our relationship with things. Because actually, pictures don't take up physical space as much as they do emotional space, and being able to part with them signals a kind of peaceful relationship with things ending that I find hard. Anyway, all of this got me thinking about the images we take and about the speed and volume at which we take them. Does taking so many pictures run the risk of making our memories less special? What if we took fewer pictures? Of course, at the opposite spectrum of taking a lot of unplanned pictures is the concept of a portrait. 

Jean-Léon Gérôme, Bashi-Bazouk, 1868-9 via The Met

Jean-Léon Gérôme, Bashi-Bazouk, 1868-9 via The Met

According to The Met, a portrait is defined as: 

"...a representation of a specific individual, such as the artist might meet in life. A portrait does not merely record someone’s features, however, but says something about who he or she is, offering a vivid sense of a real person’s presence."

How beautiful. For an artist to work by hand to capture the essence of a subject seems to me such a poignant human exchange. That so much time and energy is invested in treating a subject honestly and compassionately makes it all the more so. 

John Singer Sargent, Helen Dunham, 1892.

John Singer Sargent, Helen Dunham, 1892.

Robert Henry, Portrait of Po Tse, 1914. 

Robert Henry, Portrait of Po Tse, 1914. 

William Orpen, A Portrait of Lady Idina Wallace, 1915. 

William Orpen, A Portrait of Lady Idina Wallace, 1915. 

While I think portraiture is romantic, I don't think we need to be dealing in oil and canvas to capture the essential spirit at the heart of a good portrait. A few weeks ago, Vanessa Friedman wrote a piece about how the trend towards oversharing images is threatening the fashion industry. She writes: 

"Used well, [the digital world] is a powerful tool. But used, not irresponsibly, exactly, but without consideration, perhaps, it can be dangerous. Sometimes a selective drip is more effective than an open tap.

Fashion has not done anything irreparable yet. But it may. We (and by 'we' I mean brands as well as the people who would be brands) should all stop and think before we post. In that pause, elegance lies."

I'm not sure if I'm ready to delete all of my superfluous images and keep only those that are truly meaningful, but I know I'll think twice before I take my next picture.  

 

Feature image: Félix Vallotton, Le Retour de la Mer, 1924. 

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