What’s in a Portrait?

Short Thought


What's in a portrait?

A portrait 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? What is the use of a portrait?

Families hang a (family) portrait photo on a wall to look at 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. 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 function and therefore the viewer knows/feels how he or she should interpret the portrait But what if that setting is not so obvious? Does the portrait lose it’s function and becomes just a photo of a person's head?

So 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 so much about the person we look at. Is a photo of a person without the eyes still a portrait?