Nick, and the Power of Story in Portraiture (#279) 04-23-13

People like stories. We all like stories. Stories are passed from person to person, and generation to generation. Many are passed on by voice, or the written word. But powerful paintings and photographs also convey stories. The enigmatic smile(?) of the Mona Lisa has implied stories for generations.

Ah, but there's the difference. Spoken and written stories can convey thoughts through analogies, similes and metaphors. In the visual arts, stories have to be implied, and it requires a viewer with an open mind to infer the artworks implied meanings.

From the portrait photographer's standpoint, that is the beauty of story. I, the portrait photographer, does not have to extract story from the image. You, the viewer does. And five viewers may find five different stories within an image.

Fine art photographer, John Paul Caponigro has published 44 of his favorite quotes about story. See them HERE

One of my favorites is by the German-American political theorist, Hannah Arendt, "Storytelling reveals meaning without committing the error of defining it". In other words, I , the portrait photographer, can create images that imply story without ever running the risk of being wrong. I love it! :-)

So, how to do that? Ironically, I turn to one of my favorite quotes by John Paul Caponigro's father, Paul Caponigro, "It's one thing to make a picture of what a person looks like looks like, it's another thing to make a portrait of who they are". Good stuff! So, my goal is to capture a tiny glimpse of who someone is, with each portrait. Easier said than done.

And here are two examples. Yesterday's blog entry was about Marilyn. She was pleasant enough, albeit a bit reticent, and the expression is not a "say cheese" camera smile. But still it is a generic gesture. I did not reveal anything about her (to me, at least). This absolutely is not Marilyn's fault. She was gracious to let a stranger photograph her, but the photographer failed to elicit a gesture that revealed any part of her personality.

Now I will contrast this with Nick, a young man who I met in Ft. Myers. While I was drinking coffee, I saw Nick quickly walking from place to place, constantly snapping pictures with his cell phone. When I approached him, he was eager to talk (to someone). Nick had just moved from Rhode Island (Marilyn's home!) and was snapping pictures to sent to his friends there. He was excited that he had a job lined up at a Biker's Bar in neighboring Cape Coral. This brief conversation was BEFORE I raised the camera. I asked him to NOT smile for the camera, and this is what I got.

I feel that this gesture is very genuine, and not contrived for the camera. It is noncommittal enough that I can read one of several stories into his eyes. Can you?

The next few posts will continue the theme of story.