I have never been aware before how many faces there are. There are quantities of human beings, but there are many more faces, for each person has several. ~Rainer Maria Rilke
I am powerfully drawn to human faces, drawn to the young, the old, and all those in between. I love the uniqueness inherent in every human being, love seeing the result when the genes of our parents combine into the one off puzzle that is us. Or, as I prefer, the individual God knit together in our mother’s womb.
I am most fascinated by the deeply lined faces of the aged. If you look closely at those works of art, you can see entire lives etched in skin that emerged from the birth canal smooth as silk. It’s as if the birthing process itself polished the infant’s skin to a sheen to ensure life lines would decorate us as we age, to set a canvas that time and experience would transform into precious works of art.
Seeing a child’s smile, I can’t help but wonder at the marvel of youth, can’t help but rejoice at their untapped potential, can’t help but imagine the beauty that will one day emerge in the lines that life slowly, almost imperceptibly, etches during the joys and struggles and loves and heartbreaks that give flavor to our lives.
While living in India these past 10 months, I have become obsessed with faces, all faces of all people. Faces that span cultures and continents and ethnicities. Each morning as I sit in the back of my car on the way to work, I people watch wondering about the stories that live behind all those eyes. I wonder about the cherished beliefs of the people wearing indigenous clothing, clothing which frequently identifies them with a religious story. Each of us, has a story, a unique story, a story in which we are the main character in an unfolding autobiographies, each autobiography as unique as the face telling our tale.
During that morning drive when the morning light allows me to see people clearly I look for specimens I am strongly drawn to, specimens that, I believe, would evoke emotion in a photograph. I want to capture those expressions that reveal each person’s individual beauty to the world at large, expressions of people I don’t know, may never know, because he speak to me of life and the common emotions we experience across all cultures.
One of the benefits of living alone in a far away land is that I have ample opportunity to explore my art. The most significant distraction from the art that I express in the written word and through photography is the work that has brought me to India. The work through which I earn a living is also a passion so even in the business arena I pursue an art form, the art of leadership. Other than sleeping, most of my waking hours are spent exploring the depths of my creativity in my various art forms.
I like to capture faces in black and white because monochrome photos neutralize the colors that could distract from truly seeing the soul of a person. Too often, we are quick to judge a person based on superficialities of ethnicity, skin tone, socio economic class instead of seeking to understand their unique soul. I use the monochrome renderings of faces for my photos to mask a person’s color thus tempering initial biases that too often blind us to seeing the real person. The monochrome also brings out the deep life lines that might otherwise go unnoticed.
The range of expressions that the human face can create is mind boggling. We can express every emotion imaginable effortlessly with the approximately forty three muscles that compose the human face. Forty three muscles can be combined into billions of combinations! I find it amazing that we, as humans, can decipher those emotions almost instantly despite the subtle nuances unique to each person’s expression.
This, too, tells me that there is much more in our humanness that makes us all brothers and sisters of an extended family than those cultural differences which simply add color to our brotherhood.
Of all the face pictures I have taken, the most attractive faces are those brightened with a smile. It can be a subtle smile or an ear to ear grin. The smile is a universal human expression that conveys happiness, friendliness. There is no such thing as a smiling face that isn’t beautiful. A smiling face radiates the divinity of a moon beam, gives us the gift of another’s joy.
I say it’s a gift for I find it very difficult to not be filled with joy when I encounter a person smiling with joy…especially when it’s a child with a joyful smile. It’s amazing how adults light up with joy when an infant giggles. Joy, like love, is one of those gifts that increases in us the more we share it with others.
Definitely, the most interesting faces are those sculpted by the elements on a person that has spent a lifetime working outdoors. The sun and the wind are unmatched artists when it comes to creating a memorable face. My collection does not have many of these, at least not yet. I find it much easier to bridge the gap with youth when taking photos than I do with adults. Most of my photos of adults were taken surreptitiously.
Sadly, the beauty industry continually tells us these memorable faces are unsightly and should be hidden. The beauty industry has fed us lies that the aged face isn’t acceptable, that only the smoothness of youthful skin is worthy of love. That abominable industry wants everyone to look the same or similar, to conform to a definition of beauty that ignores the miracle of everyone’s uniqueness.
Even more sad, we, as a society, have bought into the lies. For our grandchildren, there is no face, apart from their parents, that is more treasured than the wrinkled faces of a loving grandparent. I wish humans would shake off the superficiality as defined by the beauty industry and finally understand that as one ages, youthful beauty simply moves into human hearts. And a smiling heart is the most beautiful asset a human can possess.
Misc People Seen From the Coffee Shop