By Sam Peters
Alison Wright’s new book, Face to Face: Portraits of the Human Spirit was just published in March, and, as always, her keen eye shows through.
Twice each month, this blog will feature highlights from a conversation with one of our photographers. For our first post of this series, Alison was willing to take the time to tell us about her unique take on portrait photography and how she approaches the publishing process.
Alison says she has always loved capturing portraits. The intimate view of a person, and by proxy, their life, inspires her. “It’s the emotive beauty and grace of the human face, in all its diversity, that will never cease to amaze me,” she says. From geishas to children, and even the Dalai Lama, Alison welcomes the challenge of showing her subject’s story through a portrait.
“By far the Dalai Lama is my favorite person to photograph,” she responds when asked to choose. “He effuses such happiness. He’s simply a joy to be around. And it’s always a challenge to photograph such an iconic person in a new and personable way.”
That challenge of creating a personal connection is what drove the selection of images in Face to Face. “[It’s] curated from a triangular viewpoint,” Alison explains. “I saw the subject, now they look back at you, the viewer. I wanted to create a connection with the eyes.” Through “an intimate stare, a knowing glance, [the subject’s] situation becomes a shared experience, a more personal connection,” she says. “Their eyes all seem to radiate a dignity; a claim for a right to be seen, no matter what their circumstances.”
Having such a deep connection to each portrait she’s taken, Alison says her biggest challenge with this book was editing. “They call it killing your beauties,” she says. “It’s hard to let go of the images you feel an attachment to. I have thousands of images of people that I feel emotionally connected to.”
So she got creative with the process: “When I was deciding on the layout, I lined my New York apartment hallway with all the prints,” she recounts. “Although my neighbors were intrigued, the superintendent of my building practically had a heart attack. I’ve since moved.”
Face to Face is Alison’s ninth book and she still feels nervous excitement when the first copies arrive at her door. “As photographers we have to adjust to seeing our images in various incarnations, from light coming through them on the computer screen, to prints, to books. They all take on a different look,” she says. “Images seem ephemeral on the computer screen, and so concrete in a hardcover book.”
It’s more than just mediums that give new life to photography for Alison. “Working with others helps me see my work in a different context,” she says. Already hard at work on another book, she enjoys the collaboration of the editorial process.
Alison has also been traveling for most of this year. Her ongoing travel and commercial photography assignments keep her busy, but she always makes time for her humanitarian projects. “I’m very focused on photography as activism,” she says of her work on the “Tibetans, Burmese refugees in Thailand, and poverty in America,” to name a few. Alison is “always spinning a lot of plates on sticks.”
Alison’s portait of the Dalai Lama (photo ID 1046255) and her portait of a Mexican Dancer (1429948) are both available for licensing.