Portraits without a person

Is it possible to have a portrait of a person…without actually having the person in the picture? Portraiture is designed in order to depict a person whilst also capturing their essence. However, just taking a picture of them isn’t the only way to “capture their essence.” In fact, there are a variety of other methods, which could be considered portraiture, that move onto this element.

How much can we know about a person if we were to just focus on the objects that they have had on them during their life? This was the question that Camilla Catrambone pursued in her series “Portraits of my Family”. Influenced by a project made by Foster Huntington who photographed the possessions people would save in a fire (Zhang), Catrambone focused on the members of her family by collecting special possessions (Zhang) that was personal to each member and photographing the final arrangement of the objects as a snapshot of a person’s life.

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Catrambone herself said that “the objects represented in the picture don’t express the entire life of my grandpa, but the portrait deeply describes a moment I shared with him.” (The Huffington Post) This work is the sort of thing that I have been looking for in my project as it begins to explain exactly the process that I am going through. To someone just passing through, these objects could mean nothing to them at all, not even worthy of a second glance; yet to the homeless these objects mean everything.

Now for my images, I will have to admit that they aren’t the actual objects these people are using, however I will be using similar objects to recreate the stories that each person has that has a symbolic link to the objects. However I don’t think this will detract at all; these objects are tools to add as a visual aid to the stories being told.

Additionally, Catrambone isn’t the only artist that has gone about making portraits of people with the lack of people in the photos. Annie Leibovitz is famous for her photographs of artists, politicians and celebrities; however in her work Pilgrimage in 2011, she moved past her comfort zone and began to capture her subjects through the things around them and what they saw in the past.

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What I found moving in her work was that from doing these investigative pieces, she began to learn who each person really was. She admitted that initially she thought she knew who Georgia O’Keeffe was (PBS NewsHour), but it was actually through looking into her life more she begun to know the true person.

It’s actually how surprising how close to home Leibovitz’s words ring; from my interviews I actually began to know more about the people compared from just walking past them on the street and not caring at all. Now, every time I walk past one of the people I interviews, I no longer see them as a homeless person; rather I actually see them for the identity that they have given me for themselves.

The images I will be making won’t be random or plucked from thin air; they will be informed pieces that come from the stories I have gathered. I have learnt more about these identities then I could have imagines, so it’s only fair that the images I make are fair in showing what their identity is.
The images won’t bring back all of their identity; it is hard to capture the emotions and feelings that were experienced at the time. However it does give us a better insight into past lives.

Catrambone, Camilla. #Grandma Ilva. Mario’s Wife.. Web. 4 Mar. 2015.

Catrambone, Camilla. Grandpa Mario. Web. 4 Mar. 2015.

PBS NewsHour,. ‘In ‘Pilgrimage,’ Leibovitz Explores Portraits Without People’. N.p., 2012. Web. 4 Mar. 2015.

Regatao, Gisele. ‘Leibovitz’s Portraits — But The People Are Missing’. WNYC. N.p., 2014. Web. 4 Mar. 2015.

The Huffington Post,. ‘A Unique Family Portrait’. N.p., 2013. Web. 4 Mar. 2015.

Zhang, Michael. ‘Photo Project Shows What People Would Save From A Burning House’. PetaPixel. N.p., 2011. Web. 4 Mar. 2015.

Zhang, Michael. ‘Photographer Creates Portraits Of Family Members By Shooting Possessions’. PetaPixel. N.p., 2013. Web. 4 Mar. 2015.


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