About the above image: The influence of painter Edward Hopper guided me to snap this as quickly as I could (This volunteer moved right after I took it). It reminded me of many of Hopper’s paintings and how they illustrate lonely and quiet postures, and long dramatic shadows. The portrait on the wall is Johnny Jones by Marti Corn.
The Outwin 2016: American Portraiture Today from the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery is on display at the Tacoma Art Museum. If you are in the Puget Sound area of Washington State, go and spend a couple of hours and treat yourself to a fine exhibit.
Candidly speaking, portraiture is not my strength when it comes to photography, but it doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate it. And perhaps I’ve only been asked to do portraiture in the sense that someone needs a headshot or holiday cards made, as opposed to a photo where I collaborate with a subject to tell a greater story, which is what this exhibit does so very well. With each portrait, I found myself asking “Who is this person?” before the next question, “What choices did this artist make when considering how to present their subject, and why?”.
In the car ride home I unraveled my thoughts on the collection, about what I felt made it successful. In the end, the portraits that were chosen transcended the usual technical excellence and mainstream/popular visual aesthetic. With each, I met a person through their gaze, through their hair, or through how they held their hands. With each person, I became curious, my empathy and wonder feelers turned on high. Unlike viewing portraits that were commissioned hundreds of years ago to flatter a person in a high position, these were not just pretty portraits; these were lives. They are lives that are examples of many others like them that exist in this time, now, experiencing things I could experience or can relate to, or at least try to understand. They are not about status, but human existence.
To pique your curiosity, I decided to crop these phone pics of some of the work I saw on purpose. Seeing them in person is just more powerful, and they are totally worthy of your personal visit.