One of the first things we learn about portrait photography is the primary goal of capturing the personality or essence of the subject. Or at least a part of it. Other times, the focus is on the expression and the emotion it conveys. Today’s featured portrait project by Hungarian photographer Aron Porszasz, however, had a slightly different objective: to capture the barest and simplest expressions of his subjects by photographing them in complete darkness.
For this macro portrait project, Porszasz wanted to go a different route from the usual posed shots. Instead of working with different lighting setups, angles, and poses, he made the curious choice to forego all that and just have his subjects most likely sitting in complete darkness. All they could do was anticipate the flash of the camera.
Why darkness? He explains in his description for this set:
“Darkness has a subconscious effect on us, in darkness we lose what in psychology is called ‘control’ of our facial expressions as we know we are not seen and observed. As we lose this control our face mirrors our sincere inner emotional processes.”
Porszasz may not have described the process behind his macro portraits, but it’s possible to make an educated guess on how he pulled it off. What he did mention was that he used a homemade wooden box camera, loaded with four sheets of 4 x 5 large format Kodak T-Max 100 film to create each 8 x 10 portrait. While shot total darkness, he most likely had a powerful flash to adequately light up his subjects at a close distance.
It’s interesting to see the subtle varieties of expressions he captured in each portrait. Some seem to have been surprised by the flash. Others seem to have been ready for their close-up, their beautiful eyes staring straight at the camera. But whether or not he achieved his mission to present their “sincere emotional processes”, we let the viewers decide.