The Mehtas

What Is the Purpose of Portrait Photography?

May 4, 2016

The term ‘portrait photography’ evokes mixed feelings, often bringing up memories of the mass-market mall studios that churned out sessions faster than you could even get yourself dressed for one. But that’s not the sum of what that industry is.

A few weeks ago, I was at the WPPI conference in Las Vegas. It was my first photography conference ever, and I felt like a fat kid in a candy store. There was so much to see, so many talented photographers to meet and talk to, and, of course, plenty to learn. Not knowing very many photographers that were teaching the seminars, I navigated through the schedule by titles alone. I started working as a paid photographer some time around 2007, and have been photographing weddings since 2008. But I never received any formal training for it, so I wanted to hear about a range of topics. But more than anything else, I was drawn towards portraiture. What I learned from many of those photographers floored me: portraiture is about relationships.

I’ve photographed many of my friends’ weddings. I’ve also photographed their family photos, baby photos, Christmas photos, etc. I simply thought that there was a level of comfort in the relationship that led them to hire or re-hire me, and part of that is true. But the part that was echoed by many of these established and award-winning professionals was that a photographer who understands their subject on a deep level–a relational level–will capture them in a way that no one else can. It was humbling to begin to understand why our favorite weddings were those of our friends, or those who became our friends through the process.

These are my parents. They’re pretty awesome. And no, you didn’t skip a paragraph.

In nearly a decade of photographing people, it never occurred to me to photograph them. Don’t get me wrong – I took plenty of snapshots and cellphone pictures and selfies, but I never captured their portraits. And before the conference, I probably wouldn’t have had an answer as to why. But I do now. It’s easy to recognize and assess what I love about my friends. Maybe I don’t overtly say it, but I know it. When it comes to photographing them, it’s rather simple – I understand how they relate to their fiancee or spouse. I know how silly they are with their kids. I don’t have to think about it. But you don’t choose family the way you do your friends.

So when I started thinking about photographing my parents, I had to dig deep. How did I see them? What do I love about them? It’s not an easy thing to be that vulnerable. As a visual thinker, an image began forming in my head. It was my parents, facing each other with their foreheads pressed in the middle. Their eyes were closed and they had sincere smiles on their faces. Why this particular image? Because my parents have always watched over myself and my sisters, loving us unconditionally, even through the most difficult of times. While they have scaled the mountains and traversed the valleys, they have been in this together, their friendship evident to all who know them. It is with this in mind that I captured the following image:

And I love this portrait of them. It is who they are, and who they will always be. This is their legacy: their love, their joy, their friendship. This experience has made me fall in love with photography all over again, especially portrait photography. I want to continue bringing this level of connection to every session. I want to see people like I’ve never seen them before, realizing that they’re just like me – they have hopes, dreams, fears, and quirks. It’s the only way to continue loving what I do instead of getting jaded like many professionals in the field do. But that’s a tangent I’ll leave for another post.

By the way, this is my mom’s real hair – no extensions or anything. Pretty badass, huh? 🙂

Whether you’re looking for your wedding photographer, or would like to set up a family or portrait session, please reach out using the contact form. I would love to hear how I can make a difference in your journey!

Arpit Mehta
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Arpit Mehta

Visual Artist at Visuals by Arpit
Arpit Mehta is an international visual artist, creative sherpa, educator, and business coach based out of Costa Mesa, California.
Arpit Mehta
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