Lucas Foglia on portraiture

Jackie Nickerson, Grandmother, 1998
fototazo has asked twelve photographers what makes a good portrait. This is the 6th in the series of their responses. The first responses came from Susan Worsham, Steve Davis, Elinor Carucci, Mark Powell and Jess T. Dugan.

Lucas Foglia (b. 1983) was raised on a small family farm in Long Island and is currently based in New York and San Francisco. A graduate of Brown University and the Yale School of Art, Foglia exhibits his work nationally. His photographs are in many public and private collections, including the Museum of Fine Arts Houston and the Rhode Island School of Design Museum of Fine Art. His photographs have been published in Aperture, British Journal of Photography, The New York Times Magazine, and The Washington Post Magazine. His work can be explored on his site here.

Lucas Foglia: Most of the photographers I know have a method for making their photographs. Nevertheless, I don't think there is a formula for making a "good portrait." Any good portrait has to feel alive and has to be surprising. The portraits that move me tend to feel candid and intimate, even when the subject is posed. Often the subject of the photograph is looking at the camera as if the camera were a person, or looking through the camera at me. Or the subject isn't looking at the camera at all. The photographer has to reveal more about the subject than the subject intended to show. I do think that a good portrait has to attract my attention, but it also must resist immediate understanding so that I want to keep on looking.

This portrait from Jackie Nickerson's book Farm has stayed in my head for years now. Farm is a book that I have brought with me in my van as I travel and photograph. I love the directness of the portrait, the muted colors, the details of the dust, the cloth and the lines around her eyes and at the corners of her lips. Her expression, that seems simultaneously dynamic and poised, holds my attention. Jackie shows a dignity that adds to the power and complexity of the image. It is a dignity that brings me closer to her subject and a dignity that is rare, or rarely portrayed well, in contemporary portraiture.