Wednesday, July 1, 2009

July Monthly Special: Fragmentary Portraiture

Our son, Lucas, has his mom's lovely pout...
...and his dad's playfulness.

Have you ever noticed that one of the first things parents, family, friends, and sometimes even strangers do when they see a baby is to play a "match that feature" game? Oh, she has her father's eyes! That chin is definitely from our side of the family. He looks just like you! Your great uncle had that exact same hair! Sometimes relatives from both sides of the family seem to want to stake their claim on as many parts as possible, each set of grandparents insisting that junior is the spitting image of someone on their side of the genetic tree. But I don't believe this tendency is actually a turf war, because casual acquaintances and complete strangers are just as likely to participate in it. I know I have. Have you ever told someone how much their child looks like them only to find out that they're adopted? I have.

In other relationships, we also focus on the parts more than the whole. If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, maybe it's because each beholder focuses on different parts. At the wedding I shot last Saturday, the groom described meeting the bride in a history class where she was seated next to him. "The first thing I noticed was her perfect little nose," he reminisced.

Facial features are a pretty safe bet if you want to recognize a person's physical qualities without coming across like a pervert of a sexist pig. The line between "appreciating" and "objectifying" is often found just below the neck.

Because love and sexuality have so much impact on our choices in life, we can understand how easily a part-by-part look at a person can slip into connotations beyond our intentions. But looking at the part as it relates to the whole need not be about love or attraction. A person's hands say a lot about their occupation (manual laborer?), their personality (meticulous? stressed out?), aesthetics (quirky? minimalist?). A compelling portrait does not necessarily need a complete face. In fact, it may not need a face at all.

The challenge
This month we will look at what I am calling—for lack of a better term— "fragmentary portraiture." Had I wanted to wax literary (as I am prone to do), I could have chosen "metonymic" or "synecdochal" portraiture. But people tend to find the terms confusing. If I wanted to create a painfully stupid yet descriptive pun, I could have called this "partraiture." But then, to many people in Utah, that pronunciation just sounds like the local dialect. I also could have chosen "extreme close-up," but that's not what I'm going for. "Fragmentary portraiture" is a portrait through an isolated part of a person, and that doesn't have to mean it will be a close-up.

Fragmentary portraiture, as I am choosing to define it:
  • conveys a sense of the person through a depiction that is limited to a single part
  • includes the body and things directly attached to it (i.e. clothes count, but a car—even if you are almost always in it—does not).
That's it. The basic idea is simple, but allows for a lot of possibilities (but let's keep it family friendly, shall we?).

Hopefully, I will get this whole link problem sorted out in the next few days. If, for any reason, you want to post and share your results but can't get the link to work, just email it to me.
UPDATE to link problems: almost completely fixed! feel free to post your results whenever you have them (don't forget to use the permalink URL of your post—and check the "TOP monthly special" box when adding a link" but not just for a comment)