In the world of typography and design, something about which I knew a fair bit once upon a time, my all-time favourite quote comes from a man called Derek Birdsall. “White space is the lungs of the layout. It’s not there for aesthetic reasons. It’s there for physical reasons.” So, so true.
And white space doesn’t have to be all that white. The point can be made with shadow or silhouette, with obscurity and with suggestion. The negative can imply the positive, and all that jazz. A portrait is more than just a face lit-nicely-a-bit-from-the-side.
These portraits all have something of the spirit of Birdsall about them, I hope:
Exif*: 190mm; ISO 800; f/2.8; 1/200
And so to the ever-unassuming Robert Brook. Bit of an in-joke here: Robert is famous on the Internet for never having had a profile picture. It chimes with his modest personality, so an anti-portrait by way of silhouette gave me an interesting capture, and a bit of a laugh.
Exif: 70mm; ISO 400; f/4.5; 1/200
The shadow is the close cousin of the silhouette when it comes to portraits-that-aren’t-quite. Anthony Rose, flamboyant digital rebel and all that, has a great mane. So much so that casting it against his title slide said as much about his presence on stage than a dull old shot of his actual face.
Exif: 150mm; ISO 400; f/4.0; 1/160
Even without resorting to the dark trickery of shadows and silhouettes, the face shot without a face can still have an effect. The anonymous brass player at the summer fair doesn’t need a face as such: what we want to see is the crowd reflected (and oh, how beautifully reflected) in his instrument. That tells a story.
Exif: 200mm; ISO 100; f/6.3; 1/320
Oh go on then. Just one more. Here we will allow ourselves the luxury of being able to see the subject’s face. At the Labour Party Conference last year, I covered the session where a quiet 16-year-old called Rory Weal “did a Hague” and wowed the delegates in the main hall. Brilliant speech, and as he emerged into the pitch-black backstage area I had a moment to get what may in years to come be a striking portrait of a very young politician right after his first big moment. Or not. You never know.
So this was all about using the Stygian gloom of the backstage blackout to bring through something of the isolated, yet poised sensation of a teenager in a too-big jacket who’s just realised he’s going to be on all the front pages tomorrow…
Exif: 80mm; ISO 1600; f/2.8; 1/40
*What the Exif notes mean: this is detailed data about how the photo was taken–first, the focal length of the lens, then ISO (the sensitivity of the sensor: low number for bright conditions, high for dark or indoors), then f number (the size of the hole that lets the light into the camera: low = big, high = small), finally the exposure time (how long the shutter is open) in seconds.