“Photography is a way of feeling, of touching, of loving. What you have caught on film is captured forever… It remembers little things, long after you have forgotten everything.” — Aaron Siskind
When we mention the word ‘portrait’ today we think of selfies of Instafamous models showing off their six packs, duck-lipped reality TV stars or Jan from accounts on vacation.
With billions of portraits being shared daily it’s easy to take the significance of this art form for granted.
The first recorded likeness of a person was created by the Egyptians over 5000 years ago. Back in those days, you had to be a member of the Royal family or a Beyonce or Bezos to have a portrait created of you.
If Jan from accounts lived in the Egyptian times, she would never be afforded the luxury of having her holiday memories of her trip down the Nile recorded for future generations.
Before the early 19th century, a portrait was created to show the importance, wealth, power or beauty of the subject.
Portraits were created as drawings etched into stone, busts made of marble, bronze or clay.
As a general rule, these portraits were mostly flattering depictions they were often portrayed, thinner, buffer and hotter. The modern-day equivalent of an Instagram filter.
It’s during the mid-1800s that the impressionists began to look beyond wealth and aristocracy to paint the Jenny from the block or Jan from accounts of the world.
This was when portraiture really came into its own, and we started to see far more fascinating subjects than the real housewives of the Renaissance immortalised with realism, depth and character.
Vincent Van Gogh’s potato eaters is a classic example of this style. It depicts a peasant family sitting down in their humble home sharing a meal. In my opinion, this portrait has more depth, life and humanity and heart than the staged, posed and flattering images of the wealth and aristocracy of previous centuries.
In the 20th century, the camera replaced painting and sculptures as the portrait genre of choice. At first, these portraits were stiff and staged. The subjects could barely crack a smile because they needed to hold still, so the image was sharp.
In the 21st century, the art of the portrait has become accessible to anyone with a smartphone, we are taking and sharing more images of our lives than ever before.
You no longer need to be a Medicci, Windsor or Tutekanham to qualify to have your likeness preserved forever.
We live in amazing times, but sadly many people don’t value the importance of great photography until they lose a loved one. Our memories will fade, but it’s the photos that keep our loved ones alive.
These last few weeks have been tough for the Milicia family with the sudden passing of my beloved mother, Rosa. When someone you love becomes a memory, that memory is something to be treasured, and the photos that captured their lives are priceless.
The image I’ve shared above is of Mum on her wedding day in Sicily in 1961. I adore this image because it contains all my favourite things, Mum, Sicily and three Fiat 500s!
I’ve been going through all the family albums and am so grateful for all the images and video footage I have of Mum to preserve her memory.
The Medicis may have commissioned several dozen fancy portraits during the Renaissance, but the Milicias were lucky enough to live in a time where we could record every significant moment in our lives.
So the next time you gather together as a family, bust out your DSLR, mirrorless or compact camera, take more candid images and every couple of years, invest in a family portrait.
“Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory.” — Theodor Seuss Geisel