Friday, December 14, 2007


Is the mugshot the only true portrait? Is every other approach to portraiture a fiction based loosely on the physical appearance of a given human being? What is a mugshot? Is a mugshot strictly a photograph taken by the police to identify a suspect? Or can the definition be extended? When we say that a photograph resembles a mugshot, what do we mean? Do we mean that the subject displays no discernable emotion? Do we mean that the space is shallow, that the subject is backed against a wall? Do we mean that the subject is upright and facing forward? What if the subject were in profile, as in a literal mugshot--would that pose also remind us of a mugshot?

Can a mugshot or a portrait that reminds us of a mugshot record an emotional engagement of whatever sort between the photographer and the subject? Does the lack of overt emotional affect seem somehow more truthful than a display of emotion? Is visible emotion on the face of a subject the moral equivalent of dark glasses or pancake makeup? Or is a lack of overt emotional affect seemingly more truthful because it is the underlying state, whereas any given emotion is weather, transitory and fickle? But would that mean by extension that a landscape cannot be truthful unless it is devoid of weather?

Doesn't a mugshot also imply a portrait executed against the will of the subject? Can a portrait in which the subject ostensibly collaborates continue to remind us of a mugshot in other than superficial ways? Is a mugshot more truthful than a portrait that is merely reminiscent of a mugshot precisely because it precludes active collaboration on the part of the subject? If so, is that the case because the subject is seen strictly through the eyes of another? If we could see ourselves as others see us, would we recognize what we saw?

(Photo by Eva Pierrakos)