Wednesday, February 20, 2008
I think it was my son-in-law, Sam, who told me that anyone can write for Wikipedia. I don’t know if that’s true, but if so, some someone wrote this definition of the word “portrait”:
“A portrait is a painting, photograph, sculpture, or other artistic representation of a person, in which the face and its expression is predominant. The intent is to display the likeness, personality, and even the mood of the person. For this reason, in photography a portrait is generally not a snapshot, but a composed image of a person in a still position. A portrait often shows a person looking directly at the painter or photographer, in order to most successfully engage the subject with the viewer.”
I consider myself a portrait photographer.
But I often make portraits that are about anything but the person in the picture. In fact, that’s probably when my portraits are most successful.
I know, you’re thinking… Gloria, the Percocets…
But think about it. How much of ourselves do we project onto the work we make? I say: a lot!
Andrea Modica once told me she believed every picture she has ever made has been a self-portrait. (Look up her work if you aren’t familiar with it. She’s amazing.) I agree with her.
This image was made one afternoon when I was wandering around the classrooms at St. Mary Kevin’s. They were empty, as school was not in session. I love the rooms; they have dirt floors, old wooden benches and even older desks, windows that filter in the bright African sunlight and best of all, those blackboards. The blackboards aren’t like the ones we’re used to in America. They are actually painted onto the wall. No erasers needed. In time, words pile upon words and drawings upon drawings. Layers and layers of thoughts, ideas, images, expressions, dates and names eventually take on a life of their own. The blackboards transform into swaths of light, punctuation, joy, repetition, poetry, movement and endless streams of time. (Eventually, a new “chalkboard” is painted over the old one, probably once there is so much dense information on it that no new stuff can be deciphered.)
To me, they become starry nights.
Or patterns on fabric - black velvet or chenille.
Or a sentence to be diagramed.
Or pin-prick pictures.
Or a musical score.
This young woman was seated on one of the old benches in front of the blackboard in one of the classrooms. The room was dark, and she was just sitting there quietly, all alone. I had never seen her before, and quite frankly, I never saw her again after I made this picture. We didn’t even speak. So you see, I knew nothing about her.
Is the picture about me, then? The decisions I was making at that moment, the way I was responding to the room, the light, the blackboard, the chance and somewhat magical encounter with this young woman? The way I feel about myself as a woman, as a being on this planet?