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I Am Much Nicer Than My Face : AND OTHER THOUGHTS ABOUT PORTRAITURE

We spend our entire lives looking into mirrors, believing the illusions reflected there and comforted by the reality of appearances. Unfortunately, people are seldom what they appear to be, and what is seen is what we expect to see. We look for reassurance, not revelation. We do not know.

I knew my mother and father my entire lifetime and not once did they ever reveal themselves to me. To whom have you revealed yourself? Who shares your secrets? What do you know about yourself to tell? Who is reading this now?

For those being photographed, portraiture is essentially about vanity. We want to be told that we are in some way attractive, almost desirable, still young and of value. Anything less is disturbing. We hope for flattery. And all the time we are looking for the wrong thing. We should want clues to our own truth.

High-style photographers tend to take the same portrait over and over again. It is essentially the same picture, only the face has been changed to protect the innocent. Each person should be a different solution. The photographer should approach each sitting as if he had never taken a portrait before. He should be surprised by what he has done.

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Some photographers can be very presumptuous in their self-delusions about “capturing” another person with their cameras. I know of one who actually believes that he reveals the soul of his sitters with his photographs of them. What you see is what there is. It is also nonsense to reduce people to just their costumes, mere social, racial, and sexual cliches. That is looking at people with the pretentions of looking into them. We never see anyone at all.

My portraits in this book have revealed nothing profound about the subjects or captured anything. They were almost all strangers to me. How could I say anything about them when I never knew them? What I did was to share a moment with them, and now I share that moment with you, no more and no less.

I always look mean when photographed, yet I am much nicer than my face. I am not just this chin, these wrinkles, this nose. Do not be deceived by my face.

Bizarre-looking people are very easy to photograph. All the photographer does is simply record what they bring to him. The more peculiar-looking they are, the easier the job is. We all love to slow down and look at accidents on the freeway. Celebrities are the easiest of all to photograph. There is no such thing as a bad celebrity portrait. Even a bad picture is a good one. Essentially these portraits tend to be a kind of p.r. photo, puff-Muzak photography that is a form of celebrity packaging. One must never confuse the profound with the clever.

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When someone says, “What a beautiful photograph!” upon viewing a portrait of a handsome man, what they are really saying is “What a handsome man!” Most often, it is an ordinary photograph of a beautiful person. If the same photograph were of an ugly person, would it then be an ugly photograph?

I prefer to photograph people in their environments. I hate studios. The things that people choose to spend their lives with give us clues as to whom they are more than their hairlines.

One day, when we have forgotten our names, the only proof that we were ever here may be those old portraits somewhere in dusty albums.

As I age, while I still have time, I yearn to know now, more than ever, my true self, that random and illusive thing, decorated with personality. We believe ourselves to be this kaleidoscope of passions and distractions. We are a brilliant and unknown moment, suspended between memory and anticipation, anxious in our uncertainties, and doomed to fade with our consciousness. How can such a mystery be photographed? What is left for us but amazement?


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