Max Kozloff in his fascinating book, The Theatre of the Face says that we are “face readers,” that the first thing we identify with when we talk to someone is the face. It is this phenomenon that makes portraiture so compelling. In my own work and in my teaching, I am motivated by “face-reading,” which begins with the relationship between the photographer and his subject.
In portraiture, the photographer and subject must make this language of the face come alive by merging somewhere between their separate spheres. The photographer reaches out to the subject and the subject reaches back until they converge on some synchronous wavelength. When that happens, it’s a good bet that the result will be a great portrait.
In my work as a group portraitist, I try to follow my subjects onto their own landscape. Rather than control or direct, I reach out to my subjects, draw them out, compel them to reach back. When this happens— in the blink of an eye, the way they turn their faces, lift a chin— I can feel the synergy, the language of the face. I know the odds of making a successful portrait are in my favor. But I won’t know for sure until I make a print of the portrait and the eyes and the faces of my sitters tell their story. It’s only then that I will know the truth of my work.
Neal Slavin, A 40 year chronicle
Through 23 December 2016
Laurence Miller Gallery
20 W 57th St #300
New York, NY 10019