“Every portrait that is painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist, not of the sitter.”

~ Oscar Wilde

It has taken me years to understand this.  And even longer to reach the same conclusion.  As photographers we put ourselves, our ideas and our assumptions into our work.  We interpret and create what we think and want to see.  At first glance we imagine that great portraiture cuts to the very soul of the person being photographed.   Yet, the truth is that it cuts directly to the soul of the artist. 

Is a great portrait one where the artists vision is congruent with the audiences?  Perhaps a great portrait is one where the artist has put in a huge effort to get to know thier subject? Or is it one where the artist reveals something very personal about themselves? 

I can easily think of examples of each?

So often when we meet people that we first encountered via a photograph we find that the person isn’t who we imagined. The image we saw conjured another different backstory and personality than what we feel and experience when we meet them in person. 

So here lies the dilemma. When we look at stunning portraits, are we to imagine everything about the person, make assumptions and follow that inevitable path or do we wonder what the photographer is trying to reveal about themselves?   A much harder thing to do. 

Personally, I just like to enjoy what I see. 


Eve, Photograph and text copyright ©️ Len Metcalf 2018

Artist | Writer | Photographer | Educator | Adventurer