Portraits–are not for you, but for them

Posted on Jan 11, 2013 in portraits

steven mastroianni portrait by daughter AntoniaI admit it; I enjoy having my photo taken about as much as anyone, which is, not very much at all. The photo above was taken as part of a personal portrait series of my daughters, who, like me and most of you, also don’t relish having their photos taken. But turnabout is fair play, and I put the camera in my daughter’s hand to prove, in part, that I could take as good as I could give.

It’s not an unnatural reaction, especially when seeing yourself in a photo–like hearing your own voice on a recording; scratching, grating, not what you imagined or hoped. We are self critical, we see the lines, crooked smiles, weird ticks we inherited from relatives, the bulges, the flab, the poor posture and freaked out hair. That’s not me, it’s reversed and strange (yes, we’re used to seeing ourselves reflected back inverted in a mirror, it’s not quite right! Why is my part on the wrong side of my head?). It’s not just you, the reluctance and ambivalence over one’s own photo is the most common reaction I encounter as a professional photographer. Young or old, comely or not so much, it doesn’t really matter, there are not a lot of folks I encounter who are in love with their own image.

But here’s the thing–we don’t make portraits of ourselves for ourselves; we don’t need reminders of what we look like, of our own expressions, we carry those in our selves. We do it for others, for our loved ones, for the curious, for history and for context. That is he, at that moment, at that time, in his life. That is she, as I remember her then, now, or what could have been. This is me, in time, in the world, I was there! They are who they are, guarded or not, open or shy, sad or serious, happy or delirious. Look at the face, look at the clothes, look at the hair and the lips and the funny smile, where were you? Like with any photography, a portrait is “now”. There is no better time, there is only the present, because another time is another photo, a different you.

So this is me, or it was me, for whatever it’s worth. It’s not for me, it’s for them.

©2013 Steven Mastroianni

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