October 23, 2022
By Arthur H.Gunther III
A face is the door to someone’s being, the eyes the hallway to the soul. It can be a journey never forgotten.
As a photographer – I was on staff for a newspaper – while the job ends, the skills do not nor the creative pull. My one big regret is that I did not have enough assigned portraits.
We took many “mug shots,” which were standard head photos of students in sports, politicians, people iin-the-street interviews, but it was rare when you could sit someone for a portrait.
Yousuf Karsh, the famous photographer, perhaps best related a story about getting inside a person at a portrait session. He was assigned to take a photograph of Winston Churchill in Canada during World War II. The busy prime minister wanted this done quick and puffed away on his signature cigar in a signal to Karsh to click the shutter and be done with it. But the photographer knew he had not yet seen the real Churchill, the bulldog patriot of the free world, the fighter. Karsh grabbed Churchill’s cigar, startling him and bringing to his face fighting spirit. It is a masterful portrait.
Taking a photograph of someone depends on the chemistry between the subject and the photographer. That can be instant or acquired in trust over time. In a way, it’s like kissing in mutual attraction. That can be almost instant or later. If pushed, you never get down the hall to the soul.
There is another way to take portraits, and that is not in a formal sitting with lighting and background tailored to the moment but in candid work. Finding someone staring out a window, that special light joining her face, her eyes fixed in a journey of thought, that can be a real portrait.
You just have to be there, unobtrusive, ready with camera.
A portrait session, a candid opportunity as well, can leave you emotionally involved. That happens when you near someone’s soul. And you never forget.
The writer is a retired newspaperman.