To me Art's subject is the human clay,
And landscape but a background to a torso;
All Cezanne's apples I would give away
For one small Goya or a Daumier.
- W.H. Auden, from Letter to Lord Byron
Since forever, it seems, people have been the artist’s favorite subject. Surely the inner and outer beauty of people, presented alone or in groups, constitutes photography’s most heavily exploited and most thoroughly expected theme. Sublime work in this arena is being done every day by others.
Yet, since the primary mission of my art has been to seek out loveliness that others might find unexpected, I have tended to go light on conventional portraiture and to look mostly elsewhere for original material.
But this is hardly a prohibition: the portrait work that I do seizes spontaneous opportunities to capture personal beauty, assay human nature, or speak in metaphor.
Apart from my selfies, with their Cindy-Sherman feints, my subjects are usually found on random byways at home or abroad, in acts of labour or solidarity, in off-guard moments, or in poses of intense self-composure and signaling. So beautiful, all.
Good intentions aside, I should also acknowledge that my portrait work cannot quite withstand the curse that the late Susan Sontag leveled, in On Photography, against image-capture conducted as art or documentation. Her indictment stands on par, I suppose, with purported aboriginal fears that a camera might capture and somehow imprison the soul:
“To photograph people is to violate them, by seeing them as they never see themselves, by having knowledge of them that they can never have; it turns people into objects that can be symbolically possessed. Just as a camera is a sublimation of the gun, to photograph someone is a subliminal murder - a soft murder, appropriate to a sad, frightened time.”
Your sad and frightened photographer is hoping, all the same, that these images might touch you in some worthwhile way, without possessing you wholly.
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