Mark Powell on Portraiture

Mark Powell
fototazo has asked twelve photographers what makes a good portrait. This is the first in the series of their responses.

Mexico-based Mark Powell has shown his images internationally, including at the Brooklyn Institute of Contemporary Art and the New Museum in New York City, The Museo Eco and the Museo Achivo de la Fotografía in Mexico City, as well as in São Paolo, Madrid, Basel, Moscow, and Amsterdam. In 2006 he published Very Importrant Person.

Mark Powell: I think what makes a good portrait is, first, it’s not so static. I do static portraits, but there’s a little bit of action going on. It’s sort of like a “still”, like a movie almost, it moves on both sides, reverse and forward. It’s just not a static thing itself. [It’s] sort of animated a little bit, in your mind, you can imagine what happened before and what maybe happened afterwards. And also you just don’t know where the fuck it is; you can look at it again and say, “Wow, that was just really...where is that?” A little disorientation goes on.

I used to really like characters, but I’m going away from characters because they’re so easy to find sometimes, you almost feel that it’s too easy. They’re very seductive these characters you find.

Mark Powell

So right now I’m trying to say something a little bit more.  I think I’m getting away from those really kind of funny characters, especially [like in the] first book I did. And, you know, I want more scene stuff. The person bleeds into the background, the background bleeds into the person and they’re a two dimensional thing, feel they’re both one, or just that they’re playing with one another a little bit more.

I see a lot of people making the mistake of getting burned by being too seduced by the character. It becomes too direct then. I have this joke with Karina, my wife, it’s “Hay miles,” there’s thousands of these people, that you see over and over again. And all countries, hay miles, there are thousands. I think we’re attracted to these [characters].

I want to do something different, I want to do something that’s a little bit more challenging for me. I was thinking about maybe doing these photos of people that all look the same. And they’re boring, or they don’t offer really anything; I think something interesting could come out of that as well. There’s a fine line of the castings we make, you know, and why we’re attracted to them.

Mark Powell