Portraits that make you go 'Ooh!'


For a little under a year, The Guardian has been running a Sunday feature ‘The 10 Best…’ It has covered everything from fashion blogs to female comedians via mathematicians. Yesterday, it was the turn of photographic portraits. I was thoroughly surprised by the 10 photos selected by Eamonn McCabe. There was a mixture of candid shots, street photography, and posed portraiture. Some were of celebrities, some weren’t. Most, but not all, were black and white. And they weren’t necessarily what I would attribute as the ’10 best’.

But then it occurred to me: what exactly was it that surprised me in his selection, which you can check out here, and why should I be surprised at all?

The point is, of course, that these portraits are his personal opinion of what constitutes the ‘best’. Just because I disagree with, or am surprised by, his selections doesn’t invalidate them. In fact, it’s a bit of an eye-opener. What is it that he sees in a portrait that I don’t? If anything, I’d like a bit more commentary on what it is about these portraits that ‘does’ it for him, rather than the background to photographers who took them. (Don’t get me wrong, I am interested in that, I’d just rather be discussing the photo.)

I took this photo a few years ago. Why do I like it so much? It says something about my subject that, at the time, was important to her.

If I’m going to become a better photographer, knowing how other people interpret pictures is pretty useful. It doesn’t have to mean that I’ll stop taking the kind of photos that I like, more that trying to see a picture through someone else’s eyes shows me something new, a different angle, an alternative perspective. I’m not asking for anyone to justify her or his choices, more try to explain to me what it is that makes it outstanding.

And of course, from time-to-time we put up a ’10 of the best..’ here on Small Aperture. For us, these selections are very much about finding 10 shots that we hope will inspire you to go out and take some pictures. But for now, I’m kinda interested in knowing what are your favourite portraits. You don’t have to offer ten. One, or three, or five, will do. But what is it about that portrait that makes you go ‘Oooh!’?

(Thanks to Catherine for the image of me. Why do I like that one so much? It captures the day that it was taken perfectly. I look relaxed. We had sunshine and showers.)