A true portrait can never hide the inner life of its subject. It is interesting that in our culture we hide and cover the body, yet our faces are naked. Through a person’s face we can potentially see everything — the history and depth of that person’s life as well as their connection to an even deeper universal presence.
Which led me to think about what the Greek god Hermes - from the book The Infintites - had to say about the subject. Or, more accurately, not about the subject per se but rather applicable to it ...
He knew, of course, the peril of confusing the expression of something with the thing itself, and even he sometimes went astray in the uncertain zone between the concept and the thing conceptualized: even he, like me, mistook sometimes the manifest for the essence.
The quote by Hermes - not an actual quote, of course - is one of many from the book The Infinites which I had earmarked for use on this blog. Quotes which, iMo, while not intended to specifically address the medium of photography and its apparatus, are applicable to it. It was by coincidence that I came across the Tenneson quote so soon on the heels of reading the Hermes quote.
iMo, and I am by no means alone in harboring it, the idea that a photograph, no matter how true it might be to the depicted referent and moment of its making, can not see everything — the history and depth of that person’s life or any other depicted referent. A photograph may indeed suggest a relationship to a commonly held truth but even that manifestation is primarily the construct of a viewer's interpretation of the photograph.
Now it should be noted that I have always liked most of Joyce Tenneson's pictures, especially her flower pictures. However, that written, and try as I might, I feel that I know very little about the depth of the depicted people's lives in her portraits other that which is projected by those people at the moment of the portrait making and as seen on the shallow surface of the photographic print.
Without a doubt, her portraits depict visually apparent manifestations of human characteristics of dignity, strength, warmth, wisdom, weariness and other human traits. However, while these depictions of character may be considered to suggest a life-long attribution of those traits for the person depicted, they are incapable, especially so in a single picture of a singular moment, of informing the viewer of the complex make up and history of a human's life. iMo, to suggest otherwise is an extreme conceit* on the part of the picture maker.
Re: the picture of a picture in this entry. I consider that picture to be one of the best, if not the best, picture I have made of the woman affectionately referred to as "the wife" on this blog. In that picture the wife is depicted as a person in the throes of a happy moment but I feel that I have captured something more than just a passing moment of happiness / pleasure ...
... there is something in her look (at my camera and me) that goes beyond the moment depicted. Although, it is possible that only I see. that something-extra look in her eyes and demeanor. However, even if you the viewer see it as well, I can state unconditionally that you do not know the history and depth of her life.
Unless she were to write a biography in which she "revealed all" or unless you lived in my shoes, how could you know the history and depth of her life. I mean, hell, I'm married to her and even I don't know the "depth" of the her history or life. I know a lot but I don't pretend to know everything.
While much about the wife could be assumed or conjectured upon the basis of this picture of a solitary moment, it would be something approaching pure folly to confuse the expression of something with the thing itself.
*A conceit which it might be necessary to maintain when one is asking $10,000 for a portrait. sittingADDENDUM:That's the wife in the center picture, not the top picture.