Beyond The Campfire was created to encourage readers to explore the great outdoors and to look at it more closely. Get out and take a hike, go fishing or canoeing, or simply stretch out on a blanket under a summer sky...and take your camera along. We'll talk about combining outdoor activities with photography. We'll look at everything from improving your understanding of the basics to more advanced techniques including things like how to see photographically and capturing the light. We'll explore the night sky, location shoots, using off camera speedlights along with nature and landscape. Grab your camera...strap on your hiking boots...and join me. I think you will enjoy the adventure.

Eclipse 2017

Eclipse 2017
Eclipse 2017

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Faceless Portraits

One area of photography that I have been trying to explore in more depth is portrait photography. Not so much the studio style, but more the location kind. Our local club will from time to time sponsor a location portrait shoot which allows the members to get some experience and offer prospective models a chance to build upon their portfolio. They can be quite fun to do as the young ladies are very delightful to work with and to learn from someone with a lot of experience can be quite rewarding. But, there are other kinds of portraits that can be just as rewarding and possibly more revealing...I call them Faceless Portraits.

Over the past three or four years my wife Kris and I along with some other friends have worked with homeless individuals in our community primarily through her Blankets for the Homeless ministry. It has been quite a journey opening our eyes to another world most of us never realize even exists the way it does. As part of this ministry, opportunities to photograph these people have presented itself, but that can be a sensitive subject. Many of them, probably even most of them, do not want their photo taken for various reasons, and we've learned to honor that . . . always asking permission to do so. In some cases they don't want their faces photographed but are open to have their hands or feet . . . or maybe a tattoo photographed.

This kind of portrait can be extremely powerful if done correctly and with some sensitive thought. One of the more interesting homeless people we befriended was a woman named Melonnie. Always friendly, always willing to talk with us, but never allowed us to photograph her face. One of the most powerful images I've ever taken of homelessness is her hand portrait.

What makes it so powerful is the story behind the photo. You see, all of her fingers had been broken by her father when she was younger, and over the years of abuse and living off the streets, her hands had suffered greatly. The day I took this photo was a cold and wet winter day, and she was huddled under a bridge with tarps draped around to create an enclosure of sort to keep the wind out. Inside that confined enclosure was a small fire she kept burning for warmth. Her hands, and face were covered in soot, and her clothes were dirty and grungy. Even so, she invited us into her . . . home, offered to share what little food she had, even started to pour us a cup of coffee from the coffee pot we had given to her a few months before.

It was dark inside that enclosure with very little light except a small amount of ambient light from the flames of the fire and a little filtering in through a small opening near the top of the enclosing tarp. As she sat stirring the fire, I noticed her weathered and worn hands and asked if I could take a photo of them. She seemed somewhat amazed why I would want to do such a thing, they were after all rather dirty and her nails were broken and cracked. I said that would do just fine, so she sat the fire stir stick down and crossed them into an area where just a small amount of light reflected off the back.

The low light required a long exposure value and I had no tripod . . . there was no room for one anyway. So I bumped the ISO as high as I could realizing that there would be a lot of grain to the image, but that is what I wanted.  I held the camera as firmly as I could and fired off several shots. This one was the best.


Faceless Portraits can tell a deeper story than an ordinary portrait. They are faceless only in the sense that they do not capture the features of a person's expression, but, in this case, the face of homelessness could not have been more dramatically exposed.


1 comment:

joy said...

Awesome picture and touching story.