Faceless portrait

Bessie Dickerson, who declined to have her face shown in this photo illustration, poses for a portrait behind the counter at the Steuart's BP station on Bessemer City Road on Thursday March 19, 2009. Dickerson was recently held up for the fifth time in ten years.

This may not be the most interesting picture in the world, but it was an interesting assignment. After her recent brush with crime, police advised Bessie Dickerson not to show her face in the newspaper. My challenge was to shoot an environmental portrait that showed who she was and what she did without actually showing her face.

I came up with several ideas during the drive to the station, and tried several, but this worked out best. light from the windows was sufficiently bright to give me a total silhouette, but I wanted more detail. I put my flash on a cord and held it up at arms length so that the cigarette rack cast a shadow over her face but the rest of the scene was well lit.

Looking at the LCD screen I believed I had her face very close to totally obscured. Looking at the pictures on the computer, however, I could still see her face too clearly. Enough light from the flash was bouncing off the counter to provide a little fill...BLAST!

Honoring the subject's wish not to be shown was the primary concern, so I had to burn down her face to get it completely obscured. Subtle burning and dodging is ethical in editorial photos, but in conversation with an editor we decided this photo just crossed the fuzzy line.

We were still able to use the picture, but as a photo illustration rather than an editorial photo. I very much wanted to pull off this effect in-camera, and while the final result very closely resembles the original intent of the image and the reality of the scene I had created with my flash position, ethics are something I don't play games with.

To me, the fact that I had to darken her face cheapens the image a bit. Lets face it, if you were to go that rout you might as well pixelate her face like they do on COPS. I wanted something natural-looking and more creative. I suppose there wasn't anything I could have done differently though, so it is what it is--a photo illustration.

The real challenge was finding a way to make the subject the visual focal point. The eye is naturally drawn to the brightest part of the frame, and with the dark face the subject sort of blends in with all the clutter on the counter.

No comments: