Written on the Face

Written on the Face is a photographic portrait project about memory, reminiscence and nostalgia. It came about because of my fascination with watching people’s faces as they tell their stories.

People bring along an object, for example, a photograph, a book, a piece of jewellery – anything that provokes strong memories.  They then talk to me about the memories evoked by the item, and we chat for an hour or two (over a coffee perhaps) as I take pictures.  It’s informal and relaxed and people quickly get used to the camera.

What’s left, after I delete any pictures where people are actually speaking, is a set of expressive portraits.  The stories really are ‘written on the face’. The tales remain private; those who wish to can give me a sentence or two to publish alongside the finished images.

Several things have inspired me to begin this project. It’s partly in memory of my grandmother, Ruby, who loved to tell a good story, even when she didn’t remember very much at all any more.  I still know most of those stories off by heart and can picture her face at each key moment of her tales.  (And it wasn’t even his china!)

For a number of years I worked as an adviser at a Citizens Advice Bureau. I loved hearing people’s stories, although some of them were distressing; and I often seemed to get people talking for much longer than I was technically supposed to. They often needed it and they liked to open up. Everyone’s story is important to them; I saw stories in people’s eyes and on their faces.   Obviously, I did not take photographs of my clients! But I decided to go looking for stories in order to take pictures of the storytellers. Kind friends were my early volunteers.

I also wanted to tie this project in to ideas of memory and reminiscence.  I love the song ‘The Summerhouse’ by the Divine Comedy – a perfect song about nostalgia. For me it’s about revisiting the past, with sadness for its passing, but not necessarily with regret.  About remembering our own versions of our own stories, a time perhaps when it ‘never ever rained’  – or maybe a time when it never seemed to stop raining.  How there’s a shift in key when you think about what’s changed, unsettling; how strange it can be to be reminded of past times, and how we don’t remember things in the same way as those who shared the times with us.

Maybe these portraits will capture a version of you that you recognize, a version that fits in your story, describes your ‘summerhouse.’  Or maybe they will show you something you’d written out of your story, or something you didn’t know was there.

I hope that hasn’t scared you off!   It’s true I’m not aiming for the sort of ‘happy’ portraits you might have done commercially.  The pictures might look happy; they might not.  Most likely we’ll get a mixture. But I think all the people I’ve photographed so far for this project look genuinely beautiful.

I’m always looking for more sitters. In return for a couple of hours, your story, and permission to publish your portrait I can offer you a full set of digital images, plus some high quality prints of your favourites.  Click here to contact me if you are interested in taking part.

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