by Donald Graham
My portraits are about honest moments that display qualities of the human character like wisdom and sensitivity, peace and vulnerability, both joy and tragedy. I seek to make portraits that are driven by one’s inner dialog. I’m not interested in poses or performances for the benefit of the camera. I’m interested in what a person is like when they are their most authentic. I strive to strip away the veneer of the persona through interaction and trust so that a humanity emerges that we usually see only in our most intimate relationships. The face is a curtain that separates the outer world from the complex immensity of the inner. I seek a photograph where the face is no longer a beautifully decorated and carefully arranged facade but instead a transparent veil that allows one to see deeply into the psyche and spirit of the person.
“One Of A Kind” began more than thirty years ago when I decided to make a portrait of my mother. She had Multiple Sclerosis, compounded by a severe stroke. She couldn’t move her legs or arms, her hands and face were contorted, and the only words she could say were yes and no. Yet, she lived with a gracefulness, an inner peace, and a smile that I found remarkable. Her relationship with adversity inspires me every day. I wanted to make a photograph that revealed who I knew her to be and honored the complexity of her situation. Her portrait began this series of photographs. It became the standard by which I judged all subsequent photographs I made.
In this series of portraits, the individuals I have photographed are from a wide cultural and social spectrum. I have made these portraits in India, Tibet, Jamaica, Mali, Europe and throughout the United States. I see stories written in every face, punctuated by combinations of strength and vulnerability. Expressions allude to emotional history and past or present life experiences. These portraits are a creative collaboration. Building trust in order to make a meaningful image takes time. I have to dissolve self-imposed facades, and with some, move past their aversion to being photographed. Consequently, my approach can be different with every portrait. A photograph is but a moment in a person’s life. One of my objectives is discovering the essence of a lifeforce that emanates truth in the human face. I try to make portraits that better enrich our understanding of the complexities of the human condition.
These portraits come from a desire to honor the beauty of uniqueness, character, and imperfection while remaining sensitive to the pain of the human experience. Every life is one of a kind, never to be repeated. These are tough stories told with grace.