Scootin n Stylin - Doug Johnson

Scootin' n' Stylin'

Several years ago, I submitted a few of my favorite people pictures to a juried "Portrait" show. I wasn't surprised that none were selected (I don't even have a portrait gallery on my website) but was gobsmacked to see that the juror (a fancy-pants curator from the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.) had chosen several "faceless" portraits. What the hell? Portraits, by definition, contain faces! His most annoying pick showed a woman's backside from the waist down. I grumbled about this idiocy for days.

But the photo stuck in my head. The more I looked at it, the more I saw and the more I liked it. She's white, 40'ish, slightly overweight and barefoot. Her housedress is flowered, faded and threadbare. She's leaning against a beat-up kitchen counter, presumably preparing a meal or washing up after. It slowly dawned on me that there are two kinds of portraits -- one that "paints a picture" and one that "portrays a personality." The second version, at its best, reveals (or lets us imagine) much about a person. Maybe this image is a portrait after all!

I first noticed these nerve-racking daredevils as they zigzagged across three lanes of bumper-to-bumper traffic coming from the Barcelona airport. My initial unease at their reckless behavior gradually morphed into curiosity when I started noticing their shoes. The styles ranged from ratty tennis shoes to canvas espadrilles to muddy work boots to Michael Jordan sneakers to fashionable heels. How much can you envisage about a person based on their outfits and mode of transportation? Would you go out with someone wearing ratty black tennis shoes on a grimy black scooter? How about dainty gold sandals on a spotless white scooter? Would you marry a guy wearing a kilt riding a white and orange minibike?

So, do photographs of people riding scooters qualify as portraits? I suggest they do (but only if shown from the waist down). ;-)

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