Monday, May 31, 2010

SNAPSHOTS OF FACES by Robert E. Jackson

Snapshots of faces are seductive as well timeless and universal in what they impart to the viewer.   And if you don’t know the person, you are not associating some flaw in their physical or emotional makeup with seeing their likeness in a photo.  You are not remembering some insult, or thinking about a bad time you had with the person.  Such distance enables you to simply gaze into the person’s eyes, marvel at the attractiveness of a gentleman’s features, or swoon at a woman’s beauty.

And these are not portraits as taken by a professional photographer, but rather photos clicked by friends and family.  Therefore there is often an ease and naturalness in the photo subject that you don’t see in regular portrait photography.   And there is often little care taken in lighting effects and such.  This is because the photographer knows the person whose photo they are shooting and isn’t generally concerned about the technical aspects of getting the portrait perfect.  The photo’s general purpose is mainly to record a funny or poignant event within the fabric of a friendship or to establish a kinship with the individual being photographed.  It is often a moment when the subject and photographer are engaged in some flirtation or bittersweet sadness related to an impending separation, and as such these images have a strange power to elicit a memory of love, of infatuation, of loss.

For us, they evoke something even deeper: a feeling of shared humanity, a sense that we “know” these people.  The impersonal gaze at the beauty of a face is an enduring fascination.


  1. Love the sailor with the cigarette and boy with missing teeth. And your comments are spot on - because the people are anonymous (to me), I can simply appreciate their features, expressions, etc.

  2. I agree with Eileen. Robert articulates exactly what I so often feel when looking at photos in my own collection. My favorites: the cyanotype portrait of the man with the mustache and the sailor.

    A favorite vernacular photo of mine, that I think has "face appeal," can be found on my flickr page:


  3. Portraits are always a collaboration. The best portraits are often made of and by loved ones. There is no wall to tear down, no searching for the 'right' expression... all the sitter has to do is stare into the eyes of the beloved, and the photographer knows when to snap because she recognizes the familiar essential expression. We, the viewer, then become privy to the undeniable.

  4. Even in a large-group photo, like a class of schoolchildren or several generations of a family, the individual faces are always my focus. I love these faces, RJ.