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Portraiture, Beyond Just People

As a landscape guy or at least a photographer who's first passion in photography is landscape it never ceases to amaze me just how many portraits of people never include that persons environment.

A shallow depth of field rendering a background as just an empty assortment of colours and textures is all that seems to go through most photographers heads when they make a portrait. Essentially, for me and its ok if you do not agree, this type of shot leaves little for the viewer to read other than that persons expression. For a portrait to only have a person it has to be a rock sold, well lit and an overtly engaging photograph, a shot where just that person can tell a story by simply being.

Looking back at history there have been few photographic artists that have made this type of shot repeatedly and successfully. The ones that have have made photographs of such enigmatic persons that their presence alone carries the shot except for the invisible technical decisions about light and composition that the photographer has made. So why do photographers persist in making this style of photograph?

For me this type of shot is a trick or a play card, something that you can do day in day out and at the end of it have a good photo to which most people will say wow. But to really make a photograph in which the eye of the viewer can wander and find details that may seem ambiguous at first glance but as time passes add so much to the story of not just that photograph but of that person as a whole is just as easy. These details are so very important to that time and place that its difficult to imagine a viewer in 20 years time simply looking at the perceived intended subject.

It was a conscious decision to include these details like a kettle, toaster and blender so that in 20 years a viewer not only has a sense of a person but also how and when they lived. In an art form where description is such a fundamental attribute that separates it from other art forms why would you only describe the obvious?