100 Faces: I Love A Great Smile
Smiles are contagious. At least I’m susceptible to them. I can’t help but crack a smile when someone else does. The phenomenon is amplified when I’m taking pictures. In the brief moment I’m behind the camera, peering at the person in front of me, I get to study them in a matter of seconds. Their expressions and micro-expressions. Subtle movements of their hands or their body give me cues whether or not the final pose they strike will work or not. Smiles are very much the same way. The sudden upturn of a person’s lips gives way to the expression they’ve probably always used since having their photo taken as a child. When a smile is right I know it. I’m usually smiling too when this happens.
I recall smiling all the time as a kid; all “few” teeth showing. Then there was an odd, but brief phase where I wouldn’t show my teeth. Not that they were bad as many kids, I just thought smiling with my mouth was cooler. I got braces in middle school and smiled more than usual. Once they came off, watch out world. Smiles galore! I’d consider myself a smiley person if that’s a thing.
So why aren’t there more smiles in my work? Whether shooting fashion or beauty, often the goal is to make the subject look glamorous and to an extent epic. Smiles run counter to looking powerful and commanding. They’re more personable, approachable, and of course happy. On the more commercial end of the spectrum smiles work amazingly well to help sell products. A lovely couple smiling while relaxing on the beach works well for a travel advertisement. A beautiful bride smiling at her family as she walks down the aisle is great for a wedding photographer’s portfolio. Or a young model smiling while washing her face works well for your typical Neutrogena skincare ad. When we think “high-end” photography, it seems to be almost a given than smiles are less prominent. Most high-end work features people looking somewhat dramatic or glamorous. But great portrait work, in my opinion, encompasses a wide range of expressions. Since the goal of great portraiture is often to reveal something about the character of the person, how could one simply leave smiles off the list? Ridiculous if you ask me.
I want more smiles in my work. Not just for variety sake, but because I love them. Smiles make you go “awwwww”. Even the most hardened, tattooed biker from the midwest would get all fuzzy seeing someone they love smiling and full of glee.
I took the picture above during the summer of 2017. I was walking through Washington Square Park on a beautiful day. The sun was beaming, but not being overbearing with the heat. People were out and about, having conversations, laughing, the usual. Just enjoying summer as one should. I came across Claudia, the young woman pictured, next to the fountain the park is so famous for. She was talking with her friend about what they should do next when I said, “Excuse me miss.” “Yes? she replied.” “Mind if I take your picture? It’ll be quick and I’ll be sure to give you a copy.” “Me? Sure!” she said somewhat surprised. Or was it bewilderment.
She removed her purse and handed it to her friend. The sun was beaming directly into her face when I took my initial shots and you could tell she was uncomfortable from the light. I asked her to switch positions with me which would place the sun at her back. She was happy to oblige. The backlit sun was a wonderful source of light and really made her look radiant. I said honestly, “You look amazing!” She laughed and cracked a wide smile and this was the result. She looks so happy and full of life. Like she’s the kindest person you’d come across. The sister/daughter/friend you wished you had. Maybe even the woman you’d fall in love with. I hate sounding redundant, but radiant is the best word I could use to describe this photograph. She’s just shining with happiness. I believe she was just visiting New York for the summer, so perhaps it was a reflection of how she felt being in this beautiful city on such a beautiful day.
This shot is by far one of my favorite smiling photographs I’ve ever taken in my career. I loved it so much that, for the longest, I considered using it as the main promotional image for 100 Faces. Another image took it’s place as it seemed better suited, but this one is one of my favorites from the project nonetheless. Surely in my top 3.
I definitely want more smiles in my work. Even looking at this image now, I can’t help but smile back.
Smiles are contagious you know.
I hope you enjoyed this little write up and will come out to the exhibition. I’ll be posting once a week from now until the show sharing my thoughts and any other interesting info regarding the project.
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