Characters

At the end of last year I sat down with my good friend Douglas Adams and I produced some photographs with him. We didn't really plan them out. I asked him to wear a suit and that was about as planned as it got. I set up a white background and one flashgun firing into an umbrella. We chatted and I built some photos. I want to show you three of them.

These are my favourite images from that portrait session but I think each of them is a very different representation of one person. These photos were taken over the period of about half an hour. They all use the same camera settings and the light, thought it moves, always hits the same side of his face. We never changed Doug's hair or clothes and yet the images, at least to me, show very different people.

Fig 1: 100mm - f4 - 1/200 - ISO 100

Fig 2: 100mm - f4 - 1/200 - ISO 100

Fig 3: 100mm - f4 - 1/200 - ISO 100

I think the first image (Fig 1) is powerful, a strong, contrasty image. His shoulders form a broad triangle here, he is relaxed and self-assured. It evokes presidential portraits for me though its possibly too shadowy for that.

The second image (Fig 2) is more alert. Though Doug's expression is neutral and his head faces away from the camera the focal point of the image is his left eye, which stares out towards the viewer, at odds with Doug's stance. It creates a great tension in the image and I think makes it somewhat theatrical or cinematic.

The last image (Fig 3) is subtly softer than the others in both expression and lighting and is my favourite I think (it's a close run thing between 2 and 3). It is taken much closer to the subject and as such seems a little more intimate. It also differs from Fig 2 in that he is looking into the photograph rather than out of it (by which I mean he is looking into the space in the frame where as in Fig 2 his face is turned away from the space). The photograph is not necessarily brighter but it features less shadow and I think this also helps to soften the image a little.

All of this, of course, is subjective. I know Doug well and so may have a different view of these photographs to someone who doesn't know him at all. You may prefer Presidential Douglas as I think he does. Does that make it the better picture if Doug prefers it? As the subject is his opinion more important than mine?

I'd love to know people's opinions on this. Do we become characters in photographs, that other people will interpret when they see the image? Do these images show less of Doug's character and more of my perceptions of Doug because I helped him pose and asked him to wear a suit? Would a candid/un-posed shot be a better representation of him purely because it is candid? Please do let me know.