Susan Worsham on Portraiture

Alessandra Sanguinetti, The Necklace, 1999
fototazo has asked twelve photographers what makes a good portrait. This is the 4th in the series of their responses. The first three came from Steve Davis, Elinor Carucci and Mark Powell.

Susan Worsham (b.1969 Virginia, USA) took her first photography class while studying graphic design at Virginia Commonwealth University. She is a member of the Appalachian Photographer's Project and her work has been featured online at Flak Photo, The Exposure Project, Lenscratch, Ahorn Magazine and Fraction Magazine. In 2009 Susan was nominated for the Santa Fe Prize for Photography and her book Some Fox Trails In Virginia won first runner up in the fine art category of the Blurb Photography Book Now International Competition. In 2010 Susan was awarded the first TMC / Kodak Film Grant and was also an artist in residence at Light Work in Syracuse, New York. Her work is held in private collections and has been exhibited at Dean Jensen Gallery, The Photographic Center Northwest, Silver Eye Center for Photography and the Corcoran Museum of Art during FotoWeek D.C.

She was recently named one of PDN's 30 Emerging Photographers to Watch in 2011.

Susan Worsham: As children, we are taught not to stare. A portrait however gives us permission to spend time gazing at another human being, to discover their nuances, and wonder about their life. When taking, or looking at a portrait I am drawn to a quiet intimacy, a vulnerability that connects me to the subject. The photographer Alessandra Sanguinetti's portraits of two young cousins Guille and Belinda are images that I never grow tired of revisiting. When I was an artist in residence at Light Work her portrait "The Necklace" hung above my bed. The gaze of the young girl greeted me every morning, like she knew a secret that she wanted to share. Like the best images, this portrait holds layers of meaning. Is it one girl coveting another's beauty, like a queen's attendant, or two girls playing at the women that they will become?

Alessandra Sanguinetti, Untitled, 2004
In a similar image taken years later the girls revisit their younger selves, taking up a familiar pose. This image is what I think of when I think of a good portrait, even though neither girl is in a direct exchange with the camera. There is a change in their appearance, but we also feel  a change in their relationship. This portrait captures the distance that is forming between childhood and adulthood, as well as between the two girls.

A good portrait is magic, and has something that words can not express.