Laura says her aunt told her she has a boring face. It makes her self-conscious. She thinks she’s not photogenic. Luckily for her, I’m not a photographer. I also don’t know what makes her face boring. Are there exciting faces? I’d guess there would need to be extra features for that to be true. Spare eyes maybe? Extra ears or noses? Skin color that doesn’t occur in nature?
I’ve made many many portraits. Not a one was done because the subject’s face was interesting or exciting. I was interested in the person who the face belonged to, not the face as such. Some have been beautiful, others ugly, still others plain or forgettable. But each was attached to a particular being rather than a collection of facial features chosen on the basis of aesthetics.
The faces I’ve painted for money for others are this way too. Though they may not mean anything to me, they do to the ones paying. Dogs, cats, wives, boyfriends, grandmas——not a one was picked for their looks.
Even a nude model I never speak to, who changes poses every five minutes, has to, at least in my mind while I’m working, have to be connected either to me or someone I know. It doesn’t work otherwise. The relationship can be imaginary but it has to be there. Otherwise I’m just looking at a bag of meat.
Hell, after two years of looking at nothing but dental hygienists, every face is remarkable.
I imagine in fashion and advertising it’s the exact opposite. The adman is looking for types rather than individuals. They’re living mannequins. It’s horrible to even think about. They have to slot people that look certain ways to fit a closed vision in their minds. Some kind of ideal world.
There are artists too who deal with tropes and styles rather than actual people. I can’t get into that mindset. That’s why Laura talking about her boring face throws me. I don’t understand what that could mean. The nose, eyes, mouth, ears, skin, and hair I’m looking at are hers. If any of them were different, she would be someone else. Neither more exciting, nor more tiresome; just a stranger.
After I finish her portrait, I ask Laura whether she still believes her face is boring. She says it feels like a burden has been lifted. A good thing, I think.
[Mallory and I talk about Stir of Echoes.]
[RIP Dallas Good of The Sadies.]