For better or worse (usually worse), it is a hallmark of human behavior to classify and categorize everything and everyone around us. Maybe this is why we tend to have such a limited concept of what a portrait is. If you were to play a word association game with someone and you threw the word “portrait” at them, more often than not they will respond with “face.” Of course they’d be correct but, as I’ve argued before, it’s beneficial to understand portraiture as sometimes being more than just a face or a visual overview of an individual.
Photographing just someone’s eyes, hands, feet or mouth is an equally valid take on portraiture as photographing one’s entire face. If there is anything that differentiates this sort of close-up portraiture from more traditional portraiture — other than the obvious aspects of composition and framing — it is only philosophical: photographing parts of a person leaves much to the viewer’s imagination. In this sense, the missing pieces become just as vital to telling a story as the pieces we actually see. It is as if each of one’s individual parts experiences life in slightly different ways that unify the person. Where have our feet taken us? What work have our hands done? How much have we smiled, worried, frowned?
By zooming in on, or getting close to, certain body parts, you can create portraits that not only bear the mark of an alternate creative approach but are emotionally evocative in ways that traditional portraits aren’t. It isn’t that one style is better than the other; creating portraits out of pieces simply allows you to tell a story in a different way.
The best thing about making these kinds of portraits is that it takes no special gear. All you need is your camera and a bit of inspiration, which the above photos hopefully provided.