The word “portrait” is defined as an artistic depiction of a person, but what if it wasn’t as simple as that? What if the visual was obscure? Would it be impossible to categorize it as such, if the image defied the construct even in the smallest sense? San Antonio-based portrait photographer Anthony Francis set out to challenge this notion with his ongoing project, “All We Be.”
“All We Be” employs the politics of portraiture to express the boundless possibility of gathering and autonomy through ambiguous gestures. It poses the questions: can a portrait provoke viewer positioning by withholding description? How might portraiture hide meaning in order to express community and shared memory?
So far, Anthony has photographed over thirty people for this project and hopes to reach at least sixty. His subjects ranged from family members, friends, friends of friends, and chance encounters at coffee shops, parties, and the grocery store.
Anthony held each session in his studio, keeping the conditions consistent with a two-or-three light setup and a digital medium format camera on a tripod. Each time his subjects took space within the frame, he had to consider their distance from the backdrop — and the props — which varied in size. It often dictated the lens choice as well.
The hardest part of the process was the conceptual challenge, trying to find new ideas expressed through a pose full of structural, emotional tension and ambiguity. The project’s effectiveness hinges upon an allusion to a plane between emotional spaces and physical expressions. Creating dynamic gestures that are still and not frozen have been the most challenging process of the project.
Anthony noted that mistakes in photography are often seen as insignificant in comparison to portraits in other mediums. For example, one wrong brush stroke can misdirect an entire painting. Performance art cannot be interrupted for improvements once the show has begun. Photography has its own obstacles though, “especially when the parameters are already established.” It isn’t the first time he explored these concepts. While earning his MFA in Photography from the Academy of Art University, Anthony focused his thesis on the “assumed and/or distributed” power in photographic portraiture.
Ultimately, my intended outcome is for the viewer to choose how they will engage in the work and to consider what that says about themselves.
He did not curate specific prompts for his subjects, nor did he advise them on their wardrobe. Instead, each session began with a discussion on the range of the pose. These measures were intentional in order to relinquish control over the outcome. That isn’t to say there wasn’t the need for re-dos at a later date, but “when the person and the idea line up, there is always serendipity.”
Shared memory connects us and underpins how we communicate. Being able to connect verbally throughout a session allows a sitter to be more comfortable in presenting one’s physical. The process of gaining
access to a person and connecting with them is integral to the work.
Everything calls for discernment and the fulfillment of a plan or concept. I learned how to arrive as the expressive space first breached by deep query. This allows me to continue the creative conversation I have with myself and to further engage those also asking similar questions.
The images were forthright in their composition, which didn’t require a lot of post-production. Anthony used Capture One and Photoshop for slight editing before printing. Each session took around two hours, but Anthony wasn’t allowing any limits.
You want to make the time count, however it unfolds
I’d like to remind readers that the experience of art benefits us in equal parts of what we give – sometimes more.
See more of Anthony’s images on his website.