It is often said that photographs lie, and that portraits do not, as portraits reveal the character behind the face. It is also said that only if a photographer knows the human being in front of the camera can the character be captured, and a picture be made into a portrait.
It is demanded from a good portrait to understand the subject, it will just be another photograph unless a statement is made about the person being photographed. Bert Steyn, a renowned photographer whose subjects included Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor, said it perfectly when he meant that “when a portrait evokes a feeling, you’ve got something. All you want is a believable moment”.
With this portrait we notice the natural light and how there is no background, all the attention is fully focused on the physical aspects of the subject – suggesting character and expression by pose. It is a seemingly natural pose for a natural expression, which is, in this case, the sipping from a tea cup. But, since this is not just a photograph capturing a moment or a part of life, but a portrait capturing character and a glimpse into the eyes of a soul – it is far more than just the sipping of yet another cup of tea.
If we had to pay attention to the pose of the subject; looking away, holding a tea cup up to the face, a deliberate pretense and exaggeration is displayed. That very tea cup represents, to the subject personally, much more than the monetary value of its porcelain base and gold plated rims suggest.
The cup will be inherited, passed down from my mother to me. Originally a wedding gift to my mom and biological father, it suggests the significance of things passed down, of the new generation doing better than the previous.
If the gesture of the hand and body can emphasize or help to express a thought or feeling, we have already established this to be more than a photograph, but a portrait. For the face, eyes and their expressions reflect character – the only thing that permits the viewers to see the inner person.
Seemingly it was a moment of complete contentment being captured, and could not have been done by anyone but the sitter self. For when taking the portrait I would be the only one knowing that this was just a pretense, a moment frozen, and captured, hoping that the eyes will tell a different story than what surface value suggests.
Thus this is a portrait of a girl, taking a sip from this tea cup with so much family history, with equal future promises, the gaze she has – one of gratitude, a distinct moment of happiness, and most importantly, hope – that this tea cup might bring her more luck than it ever did its original receivers.