I love taking portraits because I am fascinated by people. I know myself to be complex and full of history, so I am endlessly curious about others and their histories. So much of the specificity of every person comes from their face, their expressions, the way they hold their body, the way they express themselves. I often wonder how much you can really see, or unearth from a portrait. Different photographers have had different takes on this. Some believe that portraiture can be a window to the soul. Richard Avedon famously talked about how his photographs do not go below the surface, but rather explores the surface itself. I've also received the advice of projecting myself onto my subjects, that all photographs are a reflection of the photographer, and in most interesting portraits it is the photographer's psyche that is on display, not the subject's.
I enjoy my interactions with people when I take their picture. A unique relationship is formed between me and my subjects each time I raise the camera, the strange intimacy of a gaze towards the lens—towards posterity—and the vulnerability of being looked back upon.
What I also love are the conversations, and the connections. I've been able to have connections with people that I would've never had if it weren't for the fact that I was photographing them.
For example, I met Alana a few months ago through a friend, and right away she emitted an uplifting energy when she spoke. She talked with a poetic canter, and was truly engaged in the conversation we were having. She told me that she was practicing to play basketball professionally in Europe. Her story intrigued me and I was admirable and curious about her endeavors. It's always nice talking with someone who is pursuing something they are passionate about, especially if that thing requires skill, dedication, and often times lots of luck. I can relate to the pursuit in that way.
I arranged a portrait session with Alana hoping to document her practice and perhaps learn more about her budding basketball career. It was a sunny afternoon in east Toronto, and the day was temperate and nice, the sun low the sky, and the light lovely. It wasn't until half an hour past the original time we were supposed to meet that I realized I was waiting for her at the wrong location. A few calls and exasperated laughs later, we met.
We never ended up talking about basketball. The conversation naturally flowed into her love for poetry, the process of publishing her own anthology, and overcoming the many voices of self doubt she's encountered, and I'm sure we all encounter. We talked about what helped us jump that hurdle that is the destructive stories we tell ourselves. We talked about being present. And through photographing Alana I found that she was good at that, being present. Our conversation reminded me of how important that is.
There are so many nuances that come with these interactions. How do you truly capture connection? How do you capture all the feelings and thoughts that exist beyond what is visible? How do you show when something resonates, or when there is friction? When there is sadness, and when there is love? At least half of every story lies in that realm, and photographs, like poetry, are only snapshots and metaphors. But perhaps sometimes the snapshots are all you need. It is in their brevity, ambiguity, and stillness that we have space to find something beautiful, something familiar.
Portraits featuring Jing, Janet, and Alana (in chronological order).