The power of a portrait

I don’t really like taking photographs of people and avoid it if possible. You either have little control over a person or a very controlled situation can wind up with unnatural, even grotesque results.

On my travels to Australia, I was brave and photographed my partner Dermot and his two-year-old nephew Amos. They were spending time together, oblivious to the fact that I was somewhere nearby pointing a lens at them. I was pleased with this shot, very natural, a moment between them encapsulated. A print was framed and sent back to the family in Australia and was much appreciated.

Another rare portrait is of my Dad, which was taken in 2009. He died earlier this year, and I was so glad that I decided to take it. The photograph is not candid, but Dad’s pose is natural, relaxed and content, while his face is etched with wisdom. And it was taken in a familiar place and on an occasion that I remember. It has great poignancy and is very precious.

Capturing human faces still troubles me, but this branch of photography is immensely powerful. Should it be fully embraced or are buildings, bridges and sunsets the safer option? Is it possible to be scared of taking pictures of people?…

4 thoughts on “The power of a portrait

  1. We often don’t know how precious an image or recording will come to be, as we are taking them..a very lovely set of portraits.

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    • Thank you very much, Cath. Perhaps it takes a special connection to make a portrait work and resonate. However, I have taken some street candids in my time but this is another post altogether!

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  2. Both photographs are beautiful – the first of your partner and his nephew captures the moment perfectly, and the portrait of your father is touching because it’s natural and he looks at ease – as though you were sharing a joke or part way through a story together. I am sorry for your loss, but I hope memories and photographs such as this one help even a little. I agree though, taking portraits is hard, and it’s something I struggle with too. I don’t like how the dynamic changes when people become aware that they’re being photographed – especially as I usually only photograph friends or family and I feel that I’m on the outside of a conversation when I pick up my camera and ‘become photographer’ for the moment. I think a large part of the secret is confidence – both in your own ability to take a well composed and quick portrait, and to be able to put your subject at ease. Failing that, I just try to capture friends and family unaware as I feel less self conscious and imposing that way, which takes out a big part of the fear factor.

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    • Thank you for your comments, Alice, very much appreciated. In these two cases, I’m very glad I took the photos. You’re right about confidence and being able to ‘coax’ the subject – I think it’s this interplay I fear. My preference is to be on the outside looking in.

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