On Portraits

Last year I was given this little book – it's a catalogue of portraits entered into the Taylor Wessing Portrait competition and displayed at the National Portrait Gallery in London. I've had it around for a while, and I've been flicking through it every so often just to be amazed at the subtleties and skill, and it keeps bringing me back to something I've been thinking about a lot recently. 


I find portrait photography wonderfully brave. While I like taking photographs on my little jaunts around the country, I'm always aware that they are often missing a real subject. I've been daydreaming lately about being brave enough to ask a stranger if I can take their photograph, and it has become a bit of a long-term ambition – a bravery I can work towards.

Portraits are often so subjective – initially for example, I thought the girl with the guinea pig was in a testing lab, but she's actually volunteering at an agricultural show – and what I like about portraits is that that kind of reaction is something that can't really be removed by the endless internet cycle of pinning and repinning etc. This is especially true, I think, when there are people taking portraits like those in this little catalogue. Maybe one day I'll be brave enough to take some of my own.


  1. These are very interesting! Love how the people are all portrayed with things that tell us something about them, and how they all have this certain look in their eyes, instead of a fake smile.
    My boyfriend is a photographer and I remember when he'd first asked a stranger to take their portrait (which is such a personal thing, for some reason). He was quite proud. As he should.

    1. Absolutely! Good for him. I find it such a daunting prospect. You're quite right about the lack of smiling, it's almost as if a smile puts up a wall in photographs sometimes - you see more when there isn't one.

  2. I hear you. I'd love to take pictures of strangers, but so far I've been to afraid to ask. afraid might be the wrong word. to self-conscious, maybe. and I think this would translate into the photo. if you are uncomfortable asking, the subject of your photo most likely gets uncomfortable, too. but you are right. it's something one can work towards to...

  3. I agree that a really good portrait must be a difficult thing to take and context is so important. I really like the first image, the artist really fits in so well with here surroundings. I agree about the asking strangers thing, I expect a lot of people would be flattered but it still a scary prospect!

  4. I think portraiture is one of the greatest arts. It can be so piercing. Also, think there must be a real art to making subjects feel comfortable. I actually, technically, had a portrait taken today and felt stiff and awkward throughout - will be deeply impressed if the picture comes out well after that! x

  5. I know what you mean, I wish I was brave enough too. I keep thinking back to the idea that portraits used to represent so many things in the past: family, status, class, money, etc. I wonder if we attach the same meanings to our current portraits? We probably do, in different ways though. At the heart of it, I view portraiture as a part of someone's personal history, and I find that really beautiful.

  6. I think you would be amazing at it. You have such a great eye for everything that's beautiful... But I agree it's a really brave thing to do, I don't know if I could.

  7. I am so terribly camera shy myself, that I always feel audacious expecting anybody else to pose to me. And, for some strange reason, I'm drawn to people-less images, or images at least with faces concealed. But I am solo drawn to solo figures in landscapes.

    These portraits are beautiful. I wish that i could pose for one or two portraits that could turn out in a way that didn't make me wriggle in complete discomfort.


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