I wish I knew this man’s story. Which memories make him smile? Which recollections make him want to sob? His hardened face suggests a lifetime of trials, but I hope there was joy there too.
I can’t seem to leave a trip from any location without at least one tight headshot of an older person. Every since I got my first telephoto lens, I’ve loved closely-cropped headshots, particularly of people who have seen their fair share of sunsets. Done right, it’s like a landscape of a human life.
Out of concern that I take these types of shots too much, for a while now I’ve been trying to force myself into using the wide-angle lens more often to gain some environmental perspective, but when I spot a subject with a face like this, it’s difficult for me to want to devote any of the frame to anything else. In my opinion, this man’s face and eyes tell a story without needing to see what surrounds him.
Sure, I’ll admit that I’m drawn to the youthful, wrinkle-free look of, say, a pretty girl as much as the next guy. In youth lies the beauty of potential, of unlimited possibilities: great things yet to be experienced, before the reality of time passing can crush lofty dreams.
But even as a photographer who appreciates capturing a life in its earlier stages, every weathered line on a face adds a certain richness, a beautifully textured tapestry of lifetime experience laid out in plain view that demands respect.
Having traveled a bit in my time (not as much as I would like, but perhaps more than some), and, at the risk of stereotyping, I’m inclined to say that the Western mentality of aging is definitely inferior to the Eastern point-of-view. Why are we in the West so obsessed with youth? It seems to me that Eastern cultures revere and respect their elders far more than we do (although this may be changing, thanks partly to us and our pop culture obsession with celebrating lithe, smoothly-skinned bodies), and I think we could do well to adopt more of this Easten mentality…
But I digress–back to photography. No flash was used in this shot–I probably would’ve tried but there was no time for that. This was just a quick grab a couple of minutes before my buddies and I were heading out on a boat trip to another island. Still, it was fairly early in the morning and the light was reasonable, although I did do some post work adding a bit of brightness and contrast to the face and doing some selective vignetting, particularly on the camera-left side of the frame. The effect of the photoshop work was subtle, though, and this isn’t that much different from the original.
I like the way the eyes appear as though they’re looking off to camera-right when the photo is viewed small, or from far away, but when you look closely you can see he’s making eye contact with the camera.
When I look into these eyes I wonder… what did he dream of and never achieve, either through his own shortcomings or the hand that was dealt to him? I can’t help but feel a bit guilty that the camera I was using to take this shot cost roughly a year’s wages of the average Filipino. What advice would he have had for me? If, at the time, I had more time, or perhaps, if I had more courage, I would have… or SHOULD have… asked him myself. But I didn’t.
I hope that I’m lucky enough to live to be an old man, with a beautifully wrinkled face that tells a story. And if, someday, some young photographer wants to take my picture, and has the guts to ask me what I’ve learned in my time on earth, I hope that the story I have to tell lives up to the lines on my face.