What’s in a Portrait?

Short Thought


What's in a portrait?

A portrait photo seems like a simple concept. Photograph a person's head, and there you have it, a portrait.

But why is a portrait not just a photo of a person's head?

What is the use of a portrait?
Families hang a (family) portrait on a wall to look at for themselves, or to remember a loved one. Newspapers use portrait photos to introduce the subject of the article. An environmental portrait connects the subject to its surroundings in order to explain or introduce something about the subject. And sometimes the sole function of a portrait photo is to wonder about someone’s beauty, character or emotions.

With all of these examples, the setting of the displayed photo gives the portrait its meaning and therefore the viewer knows or feels how he or she should interpret the portrait But what if that setting is not so obvious? Does the portrait lose it’s meaning and becomes just a photo of a person's head?

The type of portrait and the setting of a portrait determines how we try to interpret the portrait. But what about the content of a portrait? We connect with people by making eye contact. It tells us a lot about the person we look at. Is a photo of a person without the head or a person photographed from behind still a portrait? I do think so. As soon as it is clear that the person on the photo is the main subject of the photo, the photo becomes portrait. 

When you look at a portrait, please ask yourself, who do you see?
What does that say about yourself?

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