What Inspires Me? Faces (or, Why Am I Doing This Again??).

I wanted to start the new week out with a post that delves into why I’m doing this street photography thing from another angle.  One word?  Faces.

I’ve been working on this Portraits of Philadelphia: Camera Therapy project for a few months now, and I thought it would be appropriate to take a stab at documenting why I am doing this. It’s definitely a pretty significant departure from what I set out to do, which is to shoot street scenes, capturing the decisive moments a la Henri Cartier-Bresson.  That is what I envisioned with my In My ‘Hood series.

Well, I decided that I really don’t feel comfortable in that vein of shooting, although I’ll be honest, I am not against going out once in a while and shooting street scenes.

What I am interested in are faces. Up close. Personal. To be specific, I like and am fascinated by profile views of everyday people. Asking people on the streets to allow me to take profile shots puts people in a vulnerable position. No one spends any time in the mirror thinking about their profile view (until they end up in a sticky situation involving fingerprinting and mug shots). No one thinks to ask, how does my profile look? No one considers the vast landscape that is the profile view…. it is just as, if not more interesting (for different reasons), than the full on frontal view of a person’s face. I found that there are some people whose profile views are vastly more aesthetically pleasing and intriguing than their frontal view, and vice versa, and that has been something I didn’t expect to find.

A friend suggested to me not long ago that I needed to think globally about what I’m doing, in other words, it can be about Philadelphia’s great residents, but it has to bigger than that…what if I decide to go to Tokyo or Kenya or London? What am I driving toward? What am I hoping to discover about people and more importantly, what am I hoping to learn about myself? Good questions, my friend, thank you for your wisdom and insight. She gave me a lot of food for thought, and I spent the ensuing days and weeks thinking about her questions.

I realized that although there are cultural considerations to take into account when shooting people in different geographical regions, I decided that those will be secondary concerns of mine. I’m more interested in the dimensions of humanity that connect us, that make us one, that make us more alike than different…and that is what I will pursue in my street portrait photography. We all have a face. We can identify with the fact that all of us have eyes, eyelashes, eyebrows, a nose, ears and a mouth with lips and teeth…a chin, a forehead, and hair (for the most part). Some of us smile to reveal our teeth, while some of us don’t bother to, for whatever reason.

And Saturday, as the new moon (new cycles, new beginnings) in Leo was not only perfecting itself but perfecting a tight contact to my natal Venus (art, creativity relationships, attraction), I came across the following passage written by one of my favorite metaphysical guides (and photographer, by the way), Eric Francis:

“There seems to be no limit to the hidden layers of a human psyche, or what is contained there. More interesting is the extent to which this can conflict with our outer image; what we project to the world, and how we perceive ourselves in the world.”


My Camera Therapy project seeks to embed itself in that gap, the space between the image we seek to project to the public and the hidden layers of our psyche that we seek to keep tucked away, that only come out when we find ourselves vulnerable and exposed to another’s gaze, particularly a sideways gaze.

Yes, I’m looking at the side of your face, and there’s nothing you can do about what it is I see when I look at the side of your face. Get over it. You can’t control what I see, and you can’t judge for me whether I see something profoundly beautiful or something profoundly disturbing. Either way, it’s a part of all of us. Get over it.

But really, it’s interesting to approach people to see how much of themselves they have already decided they will reveal to me. The images don’t lie. My process, from the subject approach, to the post-processing of the final image, makes people uneasy. They want to know how they are being portrayed, how the story of them will be told, but they are uncomfortable about the notion that they cannot exercise any control or wield any influence in how things turn out.

Those who protest the most are those people who spend the most time cultivating and protecting their outer image, those who don’t want anyone to really know what’s going on in those hidden layers. Well, I don’t care what they are trying to hide, because I’m not really interested in going that deep. But I know that if I can wedge myself and my camera in that gap, I don’t have to go any further. I’ve already tapped on the door.

More to come….in the meantime, thanks for following along.

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