“When I look at great works of art or listen to inspired music, I sense intimate portraits of the specific times in which they were created.”
– Billy Joel –
Portraiture is an ancient form of leaving our mark on the world in which we live and for the world that will continue after we die. Many portraits are composed carefully in order to control the image that will remain, to present the subject at its best, hiding any flaws or insecurities. Often we feel that our unadorned selves are inadequate, incomplete, and something about which we should be ashamed. Many lucrative industries feed on our fear of our unadorned, unaltered selves. We strive so hard to be like everyone else, to fit in, yet rile against the fact that our inner selves are not seen or heard. We crave to be loved for who we are at our core.
Portraits can be created in any medium. Perhaps it is because I grew up in the Twentieth Century, perhaps because photography has such an immediateness about it, regardless, I love portraits made with a camera. I love the chance of catching that unguarded moment that captures the soul of the subject, a moment that the paint brush or chisel does not afford.
The media available for sculpting portraits is cold, impersonal, and generally hard in its final form. Although sculpture affords a three-dimensional view of the subject’s exterior, the subject’s interior self is opaque and obscured from view. Painted portraits done by masters may afford the illusion of illuminating the subject and revealing its soul, yet rarely is one truly able to connect with the essence of the portrait’s subject since painting still has a two-dimensional aspect about it.
Photography, although still a two-dimensional medium, has an element of activity and life about it. Adding to this living, breathing aspect of photography is the ability of the camera to pierce the veil as it were, to see beyond the exterior of the subject, opening the interior, the essence of the subject to full view and scrutiny of anyone who cares to see. It is no wonder that there are cultures and religions who ban photographic images as only God should have that power. It is no wonder that so many people are averse to having their photograph taken to have their flaws, inadequacies, and insecurities exposed to the world. Conversely, in a world full of people screaming to be known and loved for who they are, it is no wonder that selfies are such a hit.
As I was perusing WordPress the other day, I came across a photographer who has an innate sense of the soul of his subjects and the skill to preserve that essence on film. Matthew Richards is so adept at Soul-Catching that he is able to extend the concept of portraiture to see in his surroundings and inanimate objects the essence of the subject that reaches out to that particular place in us that needs attention and he secures it for posterity. Be it a hidden beach he stumbles upon, a skyline, wooden bridge, or neighborhood hangout, through Mr. Richards’ lens, landscapes become portraits, capturing the history, life, story, and future of a particular place at a particular moment. Like a close-up of a human face in its raw state, Mr. Richards reveals the true character of the people and places he meets, unadorned, unashamed, and at their most beautiful because he brings the abstract, the intangible to life.