Local photographers add storytelling to portraits

It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words.

Despite the old adage, sometimes words are needed to fully appreciate the hidden subtleties in art. This was the concept behind “A Person and a Story,” a show which opened Feb. 29 at the Studio Gallery in Dupont Circle.

Each of the six local photographers featured was asked to select two favorite portraits and tell the stories behind them. The gallery then displayed both the portraits and explanations side-by-side, creating a more holistic content for the viewer.

Michael Boosalis | Hatchet Photographer
Dual portraits, featuring a subject wrapped in a flag by Joshua Yospyn, are described as both simple and evocative.

Fawna Xiao, the director of the Studio Gallery and curator for the show said the stories added a new layers to the photographs.

“People find portraits kind of boring, because they don’t know the person – they don’t understand the relationship between the photographer and the subject,” Xiao said.

The portraits Jim Darling selected are similar in their simplicity. While both are close up shots of the subjects in front of simple backgrounds, his descriptions reveal his more complicated methods.

His first piece, “Jeffrey,” is the portrait of a homeless man who sleeps at the photographer’s local bus stop.

“Normally I don’t have a problem approaching a complete stranger to ask them for a photo, but Jeffery…was different,” Darling wrote in his accompanying story. “It was in the CVS where I first noticed him – reading a newspaper aloud. And I, like most of my neighbors, avoided him at first, either out of fear or just simply not understanding his mental disability. But I always wanted to photograph him.”

Over several months, Darling and Jeffrey established, through nods and smiles, a silent friendship between the two men. Darling felt the rapport was necessary before asking for his portrait, and once he did, the results are revealed through the honesty of the picture.

Darling took a more conventional, static approach when he photographed Lori, the subject of his second piece, “The Lady.” Lori was a participant in the Seersucker Social, a bike ride for lovers of vintage fashion that has become a D.C. tradition.

“I was sweaty, tired and just spent 15 miles on a bicycle when asked to pose for a portrait,” she explained in the description. “And not like an action portrait, but one of those lovely kind where afterward everyone says, ‘Wow, you look beautiful.’”

Her hair is pulled back into a white, wide-brimmed hat, revealing a delicate collarbone. Her expression conveys a child-like innocence despite her reservations.

“They are almost complete opposites in every way. Where ‘The Lady’ is soft and beautiful, ‘Jeffrey’ is hard and weathered,” Darling said.

Darling explained that the pairing of pictures and words adds to the viewer’s understanding.

“When you include the story of the image, you are giving the viewer insight into the photographer’s mind and thoughts behind why he took the photo, what it means to him and in a way, how he wants you to feel,” Darling said.

While some of the photographers used their own words to tell the stories behind the portraits, artist David Lee preferred to let his subjects do the explaining.

His first picture, “9:50 AM | January 20, 2009 | Washington, DC,” depicts Barack Obama and George W. Bush exiting the White House on the day of Obama’s inauguration. Lee used an excerpt from Obama’s inauguration speech as the portrait’s description.

The second photo reveals a man who received a heart transplant, changing not only his life, but also the lives of his family and friends, Lee explained.

“I was fascinated on the idea of hope,” Lee said of both photos.

“Here is one man who campaigned on the promise of a better tomorrow for millions and here is another man who waits for the gift of life,” Lee said.

The exhibit is on display at the Studio Gallery located at 2108 R St. through March 24.

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