What is a portrait ? For me, as a photographer, a portrait is an image of a person, most usually alone, often focusing on their face, sometimes their gaze and most often expressing a feeling, a feeling, a character, a particularism... Everything as in painting, the photographic portrait is the result of an interaction between the photographer and his subject.
In his famous book La chambre claire*, Roland Barthes explains, from the point of view of the subject: “The Photo-portrait is a closed field of forces. Four imaginaries intersect, confront each other, distort each other. In front of the lens, I am at the same time: the one I believe myself to be, the one I would like to be believed to be, the one the photographer believes me to be and the one he uses to display his art”.
As a photographer, when I take a portrait, I encounter two or even three types of situations that require different ways of doing for me.
The first case is that of the portrait that could be called "classic", that is to say the posed portrait whose archetype is that of the mythical Harcourt studios. The subject is the bearer of a specific request, a more or less explicit expectation. This is, for example, the case of the portraits of actors that I have made for the needs of their press-book. To use the words of Roland Barthes, responding to such a demand means converging what the subject would like us to believe with my own imaginary as a photographer.
A variant of this posed portrait is the one induced by my own wish, towards which our two imaginaries are supposed to converge. It is the staged portrait in which the subject receives instructions from me as to his posture, his bodily attitude, the expression of his face. Subject who is however not totally passive, both by his interpretation of my instructions and by what he himself can propose. And most often, it is in the spontaneity of a movement, an expression or an attitude that I will capture the desired image. Fashion photography is an extreme of this type of portrait.
The third type of portraits includes both that of familiars in an episode of daily life or of strangers met during an ephemeral encounter, snapped up portraits that could be qualified as instant portraits. Closer to street photography, they cannot nevertheless be reduced to a single happy encounter of the photographer with his subject, during which the photographer would be only an enlightened technician watching for "the decisive moment". Just as much as the staged portrait, the instant portrait carries what Alain Bergala ** calls "the absence of the photographer", this part of himself which he seeks to leave traces in his images.
It is often said that images express what we cannot say with words. For me, who loves handling images as much as words, photography is a form of language different from writing. And with regard more particularly to the portrait, the subject being a person, the encounter, the interaction that the shooting arouses generates in me an emotion, even if it is fleeting, which is embedded in my photography.
* Roland Barthes, « La chambre claire », Cahiers du cinéma, Gallimard, Seuil, Paris 1980, p.29.
** Raymond Depardon « Correspondance new-yorkaise », Alain Bergala « Les absences du photographe », Écrits sur l’image, Libération / Éditions de l’Étoile, Paris, 1981.
Below, I show you a sample of what I have been able to do in this category of photography, in the different types of portraits.
Click on an image to view as a slide show. Creative Commons - BY-NC-ND
Pictures licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.