About Face: Photography and the Death of the Portrait – William A. Ewing

When starting this project i had never  done portrait photography before let alone face photography and because of this i didn’t realise the portrait and face were 2 completely different sections within photography. After reading About Face it’s really opened my eye towards portrait/face photography. William Ewing first began to talk about how much more broader face photography is to portrait. Contemporary photographers tend to think outside the box of ‘portrait photography’ and create something completely unique due to photographers thinking this genre has somehow been took for granted, others feel that they are full of a negative aesthetic  ‘…exhausted it’s powers, endlessly recycling stereotype and clichés’ is how Ewing describes it. I do completely agree with this statement, it’s interesting to see the work contemporary photographers are making and how much more of an impact it makes than just a conventional portrait. It’s more challenging to read as a viewer and makes you really want to understand the photograph and why the photographer chose to capture the subject in that certain way, each photographer needs their own strategies on how to do so.

Ewing follows this with how the nature of the face is still changing. The fact it’s never itself now due to our world now taking advantage of facial reconstruction and remodelling which means image makers of today need to also keep up with this change. Ewing notices we are faced everyday with perfect portraits in magazines, billboards and posters which have had an extreme amount of work done to them since the image was first taken. Again, new strategies are called for within this genre to create images that take over from this neat, tidy aesthetic. For example, Orlan a French photographer that plays with the face and representations. In one of her series Carnal Art she went through plastic surgery and then took self portraits to enhance this idea that the face is always changing. She wanted to show the the ideal of female beauty as depicted by male artists through getting different facial parts similar to glamorous famous people. Her most recent series Self – Hybridization is a lot less dramatic but still has that sense of uniqueness. This series continues to experiment with facial representations by her merging her face with other peoples features that reflect beauty standards from other cultures and eras to create an unusual portrait which depicts that people can’t use the physiognomy theory on every portrait, viewers need to ask themselves questions as to why and how the photographs were taken. To show that beauty isn’t essential in portrait photography.


Below i have included some of the things contemporary photographers believe about the face which is included in this book. I want to thoroughly understand these to help me with my image making:

  • ‘The face is a fluid field rather than a fixed object, it changes constantly…’ Each face has many different expressions weather they are made on purpose or naturally. Each person has their own aesthetics which come across in an image.
  • ‘…Although we think we see faces, objectively, in an identical way, faces are in fact fields of data that are interpreted and processed by the brain according to individual  needs and experiences…’ Every single viewer interprets an images how they want to, depends on their needs at the time and experiences. You’re position as a photographer is never neutral.
  • ‘…Although physiognomy has been thoroughly discredited, its tenacious hold on the popular imagination limits the furthering of our understanding and appreciation of the human face’ Ewing explains that although physiognomy (the act of people reading personalities and characteristics of a person just from their outter face) has be viewed to be false is still is being used by the majority of the population reducing the viewers to actually appreciate the face.

Before reading these i had never took into account how much photographers think about the human face. Thoroughly reading through them and understanding them has made me so much more aware when taking a photograph of the human face, there is more to think about than just the typical technical things and also so much more to appreciate. In my project i was sure that i wanted to just shoot the face of the soldiers to look into the person and how being at war effects them mentally rather than physically. Now after reading the essay i have realised it isn’t all about that. Everyone is going to interpret my photographs how they would like to, they won’t automatically assume what i aim to get across, all they will be able to see is a picture of a human face, its down to them to ask themselves the right questions. I still want to keep the same concept and photograph the soldiers faces up close but in my mind i will be clear and aware about how they are read. As a viewer i feel i now appreciate the human face a lot more, thinking about the photographers approach and why, why the subject is looking like he/she is, is it natural, is it staged. So many questions to ask myself about portraits after reading this essay.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s