Site Overlay

Portrait photography and the brain

Counterman - Despana
Counterman – Despana

I just got tipped off to this blog post on The Decisive Moment and the Brain. It came at a good time—maybe even a decisive moment, no caps, but decisive none the less. Not just because Henri Cartier-Bresson was one of my photo heroes—he was, from when I first encountered his work in my youth—but because I’ve been thinking a lot about how our brains perceive images.

I’ve been reading Eric R. Kandel’s The Age of Insight: the quest to understand the unconscious in art, mind, and brain from Vienna 1900 to the present. (Available from the usual on line suspects, but you’ll be doing your community a favor by buying it from your local bookseller.) I picked it up in a quest to understand better how people perceive images, especially portraits, in order that I might create better portraits. Kandel’s book is wide ranging, from the artists in the movement that started in Vienna around 1900—Klimt, Kokoschka, Schiele and others—to the Viennese psychologists—Freud and his circle—through to contemporary neuroscience. It seems that a lot of our responses to portraits especially is hard-wired into us, and that’s giving me a lot to think about.

I recommend Kandel, and the blog post. And I expect I’ll have more to say on the subject.

(I know, photographers are supposed to write about cameras and such, and I do from time to time. But I like to think about what it is I do, by way of vocation and avocation, why I do it, and how I might do it better. And I expect it will be of value to my clients in the end.)