Traditionally, in our older institutions, past Chairmen of the Board and Governors have been portrayed in oil paintings to preside over Great Halls and Boardrooms. However, in some of the more forward thinking of these places, there’s a movement for an alternative form of capturing them for posterity, and that is via the printed medium of photography!
But unlike an oil painting where the final outcome is the interpretation of the painter, I believe that a photographic portrait gives the opportunity for the sitter to communicate and influence how they want to come across. After all, this will hang for many years on said wall!
So, my approach is to engage my client and encourage them to consider, almost act out, how they want to be portrayed…Are they wanting to be seen as a smiling corporate…as the genial retired person they currently are…as an academic surrounded by their books…or some other mode?
For a serious commission such as the one illustrated here, where the portrait was to hang in the Boardroom between paintings of The Queen and Winston Churchill, I knew we had to have time with no disturbances or interruptions by phone, email or people…we needed changes of clothes, mood and location….just to choose one image.
Ultimately we had a shortlist of a few images that we printed up to the scale of the final piece, because it’s very different seeing an image on a screen to seeing it printed and framed large-scale.
Interestingly, we got it down to two images to decide between and then the crucial question was, how do you want to be seen and remembered? We talked about my client’s time at the Goodenough College and how he had led them through and implemented serious change. He felt that they had made difficult decisions and come through the other side – therefore his portrait had to be how he was at the meetings….serious, persuasive, no nonsense…but with a twinkle in the eye that gave the sense that the journey they’d been on was great fun, often dramatic, but with a huge sense of achievement. The image above is the one he chose – you can see the contrast in ‘feel’ with the one below (which incidentally is loved by his family)!
Going for a break with tradition from oil paintings sat well with his history there, as did the fact that we had created no ordinary portrait.
Everyone at the Goodenough College said what a triumph the portrait is, and how I’d captured how he was during his time there – I think they were secretly pleased that he’d continue to preside over the Board…not quite in person but definitely in spirit!
On a personal level it was a wonderful achievement, particularly as the sitter is my Dad! It was wonderful to spend time with him, to work with him and show him how I go about creating my art, and similarly for him to open himself up to me and to trust me to guide him through the creation of his portrait.