PORTRAITS OF OURSELVES AND ISOLATED ABSOLUTES?

Portraits do little to reveal the true identity of a person. Instead, they represent a limited truth about the subject… they are that person, at that moment, in relation to the photographer.  The subject of the portrait is even more limited in identity to any subsequent audience of the portrait.  A character, although one revealing, is who the viewer will know.  The subject continues to exist beyond the frame. The representation, accurate of the subject, remains. What the viewer sees more clearly though is that relationship between the photographer and subject.  And subsequently, his or her relationship to the two (subject and photographer) who created the portrait.

D.H. Lawrence said that we, “have learned to see ourselves for what we are, as the sun sees us. The Kodak bears witness. We see as the All-Seeing Eye sees, with the universal vision. And we are what is seen: each man to himself an identity, an isolated absolute, corresponding with a universe of isolated absolutes. A picture! A Kodak snap, in a universal film of snaps… The identifying of ourselves with the visual image of ourselves has become an instinct; the habit is already old. The picture of me that is seen, is me.”

In essence, the portrait becomes us. The representation of us informs us of who we are.  It reveals to ourselves how we are revealed to others. Manti Te’o has known this. His “girlfriend” existed in photographs. And who she was beyond that was not her but rather an amalgamation of other people and other stories. And although the Manti Te’o story is one extreme case, it is representative of many of us who have created an identity for ourselves informed by how others see us… through photographs. Much like an actor in a movie. And much like when it is revealed to us that movie actors are often in fact in contrast to the characters they portray we are disappointed because we thought we knew, through what was revealed by the visual image of that person, that person.

However this is not the burden of the portrait. It only reveals limitedly but informs thoroughly. And when the portraits go away, we will hopefully take with us that which has been revealed and exist more than simply as an isolated absolute but rather, a multitude of absolutes. A multitude of truths… sometimes contradictory and sometimes complimentary but all the same revealed as the us who was there and is now here.

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