What Makes A Good Portrait?

As a judge for the Kuala Lumpur International Photoawards in 2014, I was invited to share my thoughts on what makes a good portrait.

 

A good portrait tells us stories about an individual.

It can be in the eyes, it could be in the body language.

It is often in the surrounding, the environment.

We often decide after looking at a portrait if a person is forlorn, lost, judgmental, dismissive, angry, happy, confused, snobbish, humble.

Dhaka, Bangladesh 2002

But how? How is that possible that we can draw so many conclusions just by looking?

Occasionally, we are ‘helped’ by words – because a photographer provides the caption, which can include the name, the age, the context, etc etc.

And there are also times when the additional information actually backfire, leaving the viewers with a feeling of betrayal.

And you hear, “I wish I didn’t know so much. Because it is less interesting now.”

Or, you will actually hear, “I see, now I understand.”

Dhaka, Bangladesh 2002

But a good portrait is a good portrait is a good portrait.

So what is a good portrait?

In the end, it is just an image that speaks to us.

We don’t really have to understand, but we just need it to speak to us, for it to say, “Come, look at me, again.”

Yes, it is that simple.