The truth is tucked safely behind the mask.
A portrait is a collaboration. We make a pact with the subject, usually unspoken. We will make you look good. We will use our skill and place you in the right position, using the right gear, and maybe after you have gone we will mold you and smooth you and change you around ever so slightly. Our goal, yours and mine, is a photograph that will report back to the viewer that all is well. This is a version of us that we can live with.
We hide behind our faces most of the time, but never more than when we are in front of a camera. Some photographers believe they can reveal something of the truth in the face of a subject. But whose truth?
This is an image of my mother. Over the last 10 or 12 years of her life I photographed her dozens and dozens of times. She hated every photo I made of her and was happy to tell me so. Yet she would always sit for me. I would tell her I had a new lens or a new camera or was testing a new emulsion and off we would go. And still she hated the result. We all have an image of ourselves that is, invariably, completely at odds with what is presented to the world. A portrait is a tricky thing. Aware subjects will ask the photographer to be kind, as if to realize that we had at least some power in fixing an image that may not be flattering, an image that may actually reveal some truth that the subject would rather keep hidden. Is anything revealed? After the passage of time perhaps the photograph takes control and we see in the image what we wanted to see in the person all along. We see what we need to see, while the truth is tucked safely behind the mask.