THE WORLD IN A FACE
By MICHAEL PERKINS
The mystery isn’t in the technique. It’s in each of us.
THE AMERICAN PHOTOGRAPHER HARRY CALLAHAN , author of the above quotation, knew about the subject of mystery, especially as it regarded women. Make that one woman, namely his wife Eleanor, who posed for Callahan’s camera for sixty-three years in every kind of setting from abstracts to nudes and back again, providing him with his most enduring muse.
I know exactly how he felt. Because I feel the same way about my own wife, Marian.
Interpreting and re-interpreting a single face over time is one of the best ways I can imagine to train your eye to detect small changes, crucial evolutions in both your subject and your own sense of seeing. And Marian has given me that gift during our time together, as her features seem, to me, to be an inexhaustible source of exploration. It’s a face that is equal parts tenderness and iron resolve, a perfect balance between joy and tragedy, a wellspring of sensations. It is a great face, a great woman’s face, and a fascinating workspace.
Working as I always am to make her relax and forget herself when I am framing her up, I have long since abandoned the practice of announcing that I was going to take her photograph. There is never any posing or sitting. I approach her the way I would a stranger on the street. I wait for the moment when her face is in the act of becoming, than sneak off with whatever I can steal. Sometimes it takes a little more stealth than I am comfortable with, but my motives are simple; I don’t want the mechanics of photography to block what is coming from that face.
Phone conversations are my best friends, as they seem to magically suspend her self-consciousness and her awareness of the schmuck with the camera. And every once in a while, in viewing the results, she bestows my favorite compliment:
“That one’s not too bad…”
For praise like that, I’ll follow a face anywhere. Because the mystery isn’t in the technique.
It’s in all of her.