by Donald Graham
My portraits are about honest moments that display qualities of the human character including 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 intimate relationships. I seek a photograph where the face is no longer a beautifully decorated and carefully arranged facade but instead a canvas where the inner world of the person draws unique and complex stories into the face of the subject.
“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. There is a story in every face, punctuated by combinations of strength and vulnerability. Expressions allude to emotional history and life experiences. These portraits are a collaboration. Building trust in order to make a meaningful image takes time. I have to dissolve self-imposed facades, and move past each person’s routine of how to act while being photographed. My approach can be different with every person. One of my objectives is illuminating an inner essence of each person. I try to make portraits that 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.