I haven’t made many portraits these past few years. I once thoroughly enjoyed the process, but lost the passion for it around the time I went digital, I think. With digital, manipulation became easier and the pressure intensified to create magazine type finishes. Smoothed skin, enlarged eyes, plumped lips etc, until I was pushing out images that were not so much as skin deep. Now I am not climbing on any high horses here – I embraced it, and for a time felt wonderful presenting pictures to clients that “oohed” and “arghed” at how perfect they looked. I knew they were bullshit and they knew they were bullshit but we were all ok with it. Well, perhaps I thought I was but I slowly tired of that image making and moved away from it. It was done unconsciously and not something I thought about until quite recently when I started to feel the urge to point my camera at people again.
When did we learn that the way we look is unacceptable? It doesn’t really matter I guess but what does matter is that we learn how beautiful we all are, a beauty enhanced by wearing our experiences with acceptance and love. The sun damage, stretch marks, crows feet, double chins, laugh lines and whatever else, are all evidence of a life lived in a body, and read like an exquisite book if we will just let people look beyond the cover. This is where it gets tricky and I don’t want to sound like some naturalistic evangelist. I have no problem with people wanting to look their best and doing things that make them feel good about themselves, I encourage it, I just think we look our best when we accept all of ourselves.
The portraits I love are the ones where the subject has surrendered to their beauty and can confidently convey “this is me”. Interestingly this is becoming a more common sentiment, illustrated by the direction the Pirelli Calendar has taken. In 2016 Annie Lebowitz departed from the cliche’d norm and depicted powerful women in various states of dress. Sure they were made up and stylised, but there was no leg lengthening, neck stretching or boob pumping fuckery, and the images are all the more powerful for it. The following year Peter Lindbergh picked actresses he believed were at the very top of the talent list, and shot them fully clothed and minimally made up, presenting their natural beauty. These are images that hold your attention, there is no flicking on to the next piece of transitory eye-candy.
There are many reasons to make a portrait and consequently many styles to achieve the objective; what I like is for us to connect. We cannot do that if we are creating aliens with our software. We have pores and freckles and crooked toes, and at our core we identify with these aspects. They are what makes us human, and when we see them in other people there is recognition. The last portraits I have made have not suffered the atrocities of software surgery, just the standard photographic adjustments, and are the better for it. My portraits did not improve with my expanded photoshop skills, but they are slowly improving with my people skills. I am going to go out on a limb here and hazard that the more comfortable I get in my skin, the better the portraits I make. Perhaps it has something to do with being human?