photoflow: the faceless portrait


hiking an unrenovated, desolate portion of the great wall of china, i made this portrait of my german boyfriend thorsten. i LOVE this photo. have it framed in my kitchen (even though we stopped dating years ago). 

i find this image speaks volumes about thorsten:

1. strong: just look at that frame, that physique, tall and sturdy, those lean tree trunk legs.

2. mountain man: he uses that body to get out in nature and climb high (he also runs long distance and cycles up big hills).

3. intrepid traveller: he loves visiting new places, experiencing new cultures and foods (and has lived in the states over 10 years).

4. off the beaten path: this guy marches to his own drum (has a pierced ear and plays electric guitar).

5. relaxed: his hand reveals his relaxed nature (even though he's very hardworking and ambitious).

that's a lot of information for one photo. and you can't even see his face!

and that is exactly the point: you do not need to show someone's face to show many things about her/him. showing the back may reveal even more than the face. the face can distract us from seeing all the rest there is to see of someone. 

but not everyone agrees on this point. 

i was going to accompany thorsten home to germany for christmas, and considered giving this photo of thorsten to his mother. i hemmed and hawed. not sure she would like a photo of her son without seeing his face. i consulted my dad -- of the parental generation -- who very much appreciated photography. he said, go for it, it's a great photograph. 

so i gave it to thorsten's mom for christmas. she did not get it. no oooos and ahhhhhs. no "great photo," nicht. just a polite thank you. (she didn't get me, either, but that's another story.) 

some people expect to see faces in portraits. but i am reminded to photograph the "rear view" for a change ... to see what else there is to see of someone. 

Often while traveling with a camera we arrive just as the sun slips over the horizon of a moment, too late to expose film, only time enough to expose our hearts. 

~ Minor White