Is there a Point to a Portrait?

Why do we need portraits?

I am often surprised when people tell me that they do not need a portrait.

When I ask why some of the reasons I am given are:

  • that they have plenty of photos on their phone
  • that they do not see the value in them
  • that they hate having their photograph taken, this one I can relate to at least!

The truth of it is that actually there is a very small minority of adults who do like having their photograph taken, if I had to give it a number I would say as little at 10% maybe even lower. The rest of us do not think we look good in any photo.

But why do we hate having our photograph taken? In an age where photography has become more accessible than ever, why are we avoiding the camera? The most common answers are that we do not like the way we look or a specific physical feature. I suffered from this for many years, from a teen well into my 30’s. As a photographer though this gave me the empathy to relate to many of the people I photographed.

Other reason vary from phobias, fears and traumatic experiences. What if I could change the way you view photography? Not to see it as a tool that makes you look bad but a way to celebrate your journey through life.

I make no profound revelations nor can I cure you of any traumatic camera experiences but I can promise to make you take a second to think the next time a camera is pointed in your direction.

The truth is that the flaws and things we see when we see ourselves in a photo are never what anyone else sees. Think about it when was the last time you looked at a photo of you with other people and you thought to yourself that anyone else in that photo looked bad? We are all only seeing our own issues. If you are being picked a part by the other people in the photograph then I would suggest you may need to rethink your association with them.

So why do we need portraits?

There is many reasons but I think that the biggest reason by far is because one day that image or images will be all that is left of you. Not a cheery subject but lets be honest if you have kids or grandchildren how will they remember you? Without photos they will only have vague fading memories.

In my photograph albums I have a collection of images that have been passed down to me from both of my grandparents. I have images that are over a 100 years old of people I have never met but clearly share DNA with. Luckily for me many have names and dates on them and they give me a connection to my heritage. One I treasure.

Earlier this year I returned home to Canada for my fathers funeral, and I had an experience that left me a little surprised. I of all people feel I understand the power of a photograph but what I experienced truly left me astounded.

My parents were divorced when I was young and I spent many years not seeing my father, nothing entirely new to many children of divorce. I always yearned for a connection and even in my teens I was always drawn to be friends with people who had close knit families. Somehow the disconnection of my parents left me feeling displaced. I am sure many psychologist will tell me this is completely normal.

Fast forward 40 years later to this year and that disconnection continues. So sitting on the floor in my Aunt’s basement I am going through the photograph albums that were my fathers. Many of them, my father was also a photographer. There was his friends and time in the airforce and I felt little like I was learning about a man I now realised I barely knew. Then my mother started to appear in the photos and eventually me. Some of the images I had seen before but many I had not. Then it hit me, that feeling of belonging.  I had belonged and I was seeing that belonging right here in these photographs. I was not feeling the loss of my father but the filling of a life long void and it had a profound effect on me.

If I had of seen these image earlier in my life would it of made a difference? I do not know but had I of never seen them I know my life would of been poorer for it.

This lead me to research the effects of photography on families and children. The research I found gave many reasons why we need portraits more than ever. In this age of social media and messaging we have never felt so disconnected and isolated.

This is what some of the research suggests can be the power of a portrait.

When a child goes through the portrait process with their family and then sees the family portrait displayed prominently in their home every day, with them in it, this gives them a sense of security and unity with their loved ones.

They grow up with greater confidence and sense of belonging. Photography in the home reportedly makes children feel valued and gives them a rich understanding of where they come from.

The power of photographs to keep us feeling linked to others and belonging cannot be overestimated it seems. They cement us into our networks.

For children in particular, looking at photographs is part of the socialising process; learning who you are and where you fit into the family. By displaying photographs of our children at different stages of their lives, we are making a very public statement that we are proud of them. This is often even more relevant to children that have been adopted or have divorced parents.

Until recently, people often thought of photographs as almost trivial, but actually they are an incredibly important way of connecting with our sense of self, with each other and with times gone by.

So the next time you think you do not need a portrait especially one with your family I want you to consider the affect a portrait can have on the lives of you and your children, now and in the future.

The reason you need a professional portrait photographer is so that they can make you look good, better than you ever thought possible.