For my Amherst Class, American Extravaganzas, we read “Moby Dick.” I wrote a paper on the artistic qualities of the narrator who projects his own thoughts and feelings upon everything he encounters, whether it be a person, the sea or an inanimate object- such as an artwork.
Now I strongly believe that “we see things not as they are, but as who we are” (Anthony de Mello). Thus, it appears that a person’s self-perception, their beliefs, and values can affect the way they perceive a visual element. With the postings on the “male gaze,” “selfie culture,” and photography, in general, I wanted to explore the way I see the world; not as a female (this will not be a posting on the “female gaze”), but as a budding artist. How do I translate who I am; my thought process, my perspective, my understanding through my own artwork?
It is easy to project our own interpretations and our own understanding when viewing, let’s say, a portrait. Now I love portraiture, and I love photographing and drawing children. But I started to realize that I am not just duplicating the image of a child, I am capturing the person, persona & personality of the child. I am always conscious of why I am choosing to depict the subject in a particular way.
In the “Burden of Representation,” John Tagg states, “the ideological conception of the photograph as a direct and “natural” cast of reality was present from the very beginning and, almost immediately, its appeal was exploited in portraiture” (41). I agree that portraiture is a translation of a person in a given moment in time; it captures the reality of a person in a specific instance. But I don’t think that portraiture is a ““natural” cast of reality,” because it may not even look like the person, i.e. it may lack in terms of likeness.
What about painting or drawing portraits? How accurate are such depictions? Such portraiture is captured over a period of time…they capture the reality of a person over a period of time as they model for the artist. But what if the subject doesn’t model- what if the artist chooses to draw their subject from a photograph? Then it becomes a double translation. Is the reality of the image, or rather the “”natural” cast of reality” reduced in the final piece of artwork? Or does this double translation allow for a new kind of natural reality to be cast upon the subject?
Take this photo of my brother, Abdullah; I chose to depict him in a playful light. He looks energetic; I emphasize this through the erratic mark-making that goes hand-in-hand with his energy and expression. In order to emphasize his bold nature, his exuberance and confidence, I drew him on an A1 size paper, so he was drawn relatively bigger than his real-life scale. By not sticking to an accurate scale, I wanted to emphasize his larger than life persona. My brother was only 7 years old at this time.
This isn’t a perfect translation; it’s a biased representation of my brother for several reasons:
- I was a less experienced artist in 2010
- I injected my own perception of my brother as I was drawing
- I drew him from a photograph because he wasn’t going to pose for such a long period of time.
I personally don’t think he looks 7- years-old here. Or this is the result because he looks older in the original photograph I was using for reference. Of course, at the time I thought I had done a pretty accurate representation. But I probably drew my brother as I saw him, rather than what he really looked like. This drawing was influenced by my perception of his character- he embodies many great qualities; he is very friendly, energetic, and mature for his age. Maybe I didn’t always see my brother as 10 ½ years younger than myself. Now I do. Now he is 11. He’s my “Lil bro.”
Here is another drawing of him which was drawn around the same period of time (I actually drew the one below before I drew the image above). He looks quite similar, and yet, quite different. This is another side to his character, literally and figuratively. This is a more playful image of Abdullah, or at least I think he looks younger and more playful:
“WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING AT?”
This one took considerably less time. I was done in one class sitting- so around 40 minutes. But the first image shown took about 4 hours or more. Maybe I became considerably attached to that image, or I was more hell-bent on creating a likeness between the subject and drawing but the photo served as an interruption. I just remember, “WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING AT?” was easier, more fun and less stressful to create than the image with my brother’s face and hands pressed against a transparent glass door. Yet, I prefer “Peek-A-Boo”- he covers most of the page, he is smiling and maybe I just love it because I spent so much time on it!
Both drawings are of the same size. Both of them are confrontational, but they could be showing different children. The medium (pen), the style, the monochrome depiction is what makes them go together as a pair. Not necessarily the likeness between the images.
While photographic portraits may be more iconic representations of people, other kinds of portraiture may be more effective when it comes to capturing the essence of the subject. These drawings serve the traditional purpose of photography; to capture loved ones- Photography was “primarily a means of obtaining pictures of faces” (Tagg 35) we know. But as a budding artist, drawing my brother allowed me to be in control and obtain more than just his face, it allowed me to project my opinions as an artist onto him. I treat him as more than a family member- but also a subject. Or rather he is a family member and that affects the way I treat him as a subject.
Unlike painting a portrait reserved specifically for the bourgeoisie, anyone can commission a work of art (though it is still an expensive practice compared to photographing). But doesn’t painting and drawing a face have more sentimental value compared to a photographic portrait? Especially if completed by a loved one, considering the preparation and practice time taken into account? I would say it’s like writing a personalized letter on paper; like using a pen compared to writing an e-mail dealing with the same content. Writing a letter takes more time, more effort and leaves less room for error.
Similarly drawing these portraits of my brother took more time than photographing him on two separate occasions. I took multiple pictures of him and chose the “best ones,” or rather the ones I thought were best. The photography was more spontaneous- the drawings were not (they were more planned and thought out). There are many photographs of my brother, but fewer drawings of him. I try to reclaim the value of traditional artwork and portraiture with a contemporary spin using such poses of my brother (instead of making him sit still). I captured his smile and mischievousness in one of them. His annoyance and attitude in another. He is engaged with me (the photographer) in one, not so much on the other. The compositions are supposed to emphasize the “Complexity of Children”- the title of the series these images were part of. Children are a lot smarter than we think; there’s more to Abdullah than his childishness and innocence.
These drawings have more sentimental value compared to the photographs of Abdullah I took. Or maybe I am just a biased sister and artist.