Capturing Vulnerability in a Portrait

by JoAnne McFarland in Choosing Subject Matter
I loved when my kids were teenagers! I may be one of very few parents who enjoyed this stage, but there was something about the bravado and vulnerability that many teens project, at the same time, sometimes in the same moment! that fascinate me.

A Poem or a Painting Happens Every Day

I went to a friend’s home to take photos of her husband, a man I’ve admired for decades. As we were all sitting in their living room chatting, I noticed that their daughter was looking at her dad in a very loving way. She’d crammed herself onto this wicker sofa that was just too small for her.
I quickly snapped a few shots, before she could change her position, and used one of them to set up this portrait.
I wanted to capture her colorful, odd outfit, the hair she’d dyed many colors, and the hot pink socks she was wearing. I loved the position of her legs which was so unselfconsciously open, showing how comfortable she was with us, even as her folded upper body proved that she was larger than this container, that she had outgrown this space.

A Budding Writer

In another portrait, painted a year or two later, I asked another teenager to pose for me in a wedding gown (like the christening gown worn by the black antique doll that I often paint, the wedding gown serves as a blank slate of sorts). When she posed, she put her hands up in a wonderfully symmetrical, protective gesture that turned the skirt into an ivory bouquet.

Ascetic Eroticism

Her gaze is at once direct and indirect. The environment around her is plumped, vivid, while she is contained. The emphasis is on her hands and face (she wants to be a novelist); her head rising above the ‘horizon line’ created by the back of the sofa.
The portrait embodies my philosophy of Ascetic Eroticism in which one’s environment reflects an intentional, dynamic accord between one’s body, objects in space, color, and action.