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Posts Tagged ‘Conversation at the Farmers Market’

Portrait of Tina at the Lush Bakery, Fort Myers, Fla.  By Paul Goldfinger   ©

Portrait of Tina at the Lush Bakery, Fort Myers, Fla. By Paul Goldfinger ©   2013

Young man  at the bakery counter:   “People always think I’m angry.”

Customer–a woman:  “Are you?”

Young man:  “No, not at all. I’m usually happy”

Customer:  “Why do they think you are angry?”

Young man:  “It’s because of my face.  I have squinty eyes, and my bone structure just makes me look that way.”

Editor’s note:  I was curious  in hearing this conversation which was about whether one could judge a person by looking at their face.  I think all of us understand that you can be often fooled if you try to do that, yet we all do it.  In our everyday lives we often have only someone’s face to use in predicting a person’s character or personality or mood.

Winston Churchill 1941 by Yousef Karsh.

Winston Churchill 1941 by Yousef Karsh.

I’ve been interested in this issue for a long time as it relates to portrait photography. One of the most famous portraits ever was taken in 1941 of Winston Churchill. He looks angry and perhaps determined.  But, when Yousef Karsh, the famous portraitist, took the image, Karsh had just yanked the cigar out of Churchill’s mouth. Churchill reacted and Karsh hit the trigger.  But just a minute later, the second exposure showed Churchill smiling.  Of course the dour puss became the famous image that supposedly revealed Churchill’s true nature.

I’m not sure about painters, but I am skeptical of art critics who see all sorts of personal qualities in photographic portraits.  I think photographers can reveal what a person  looks like and can photograph them in their usual environment, showing what they do, or even suggesting their mood.  But the photographer can manipulate the facial expressions of their subjects, and the idea of capturing character in the best portraits, well I remain a skeptic.

Cindy Sherman self portrait.

Cindy Sherman self portrait.

Cindy Sherman became famous taking self portraits, but she always fooled the camera by creating characters for herself using makeup, prosthetics, wigs and costumes.  If she wanted to look like Marilyn Monroe, she would stuff socks in her bra. Other times she would wear giant curlers in her hair. She denied that she ever revealed her true self  in these images.

A critic who interviewed Sherman said,  “She says that she’s managed to star in her pictures ‘without giving anything away.’  She pauses and smiles. ‘I’m not about revealing myself,’ she says.”

“Cindy Sherman took photos of herself that were anything but self-portraits; photos that stuck two fingers at the then received wisdom that the camera never lies – her camera always lied.”

So I guess it boils down to “you can’t tell a book by its cover.”  And in photography, I rarely take formal portraits, preferring candid shots of people.  That seems the closest you can get to revealing someone’s character in a photograph.

—Paul Goldfinger, photography editor  @Blogfinger

ROLLING STONES:  “Far Away Eyes.”

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