Loving the Faceless Portrait

As a child who loved to draw, I was obsessed with the human face. I spent hours drawing faces, trying to figure out how to render this 3-D object in two dimensions. I remember when I learned the proportions of the face: the eyes are in the center of the head, but not the face; the bottom of the nose is halfway between the eyes and chin. I drew and drew and drew. 

When I first picked up a camera and started exploring the world through a lens, I got stuck on the snapshot. I photographed faces of people I loved, not with thoughtful composition but simply capturing a moment. And, though I hadn’t drawn a face in many years, I found myself drawn to faces again. 

But that lasted only a brief time. 

As I grew into my photography, I started noticing details — hands, feet, shoulders, knees. Faces are so expressive, but body language captures something beyond what a face can. The body, its shape and gestures, conveys the essence of the person. You don’t have to see a face to capture an emotion in a photograph, and I love that. I love capturing what is so often overlooked, what can get lost behind a pretty smile. It’s the bits and pieces of people that I love to photograph. I love the faceless portrait.

Last year, as more people began asking me to take their picture, I sort of stumbled into portrait photography. I started a small photography business and began accepting clients this spring. And for a while, I gave up the faceless portrait. I was sure no one wanted that. A photographer should capture smiles, I thought. It never occurred to me, after years of taking faceless portraits, that people would expect that from me or that it would be something they wanted. 

Giving it up felt like a betrayal, like I wasn’t being true to myself as an artist. Faces are important, yes, and I would never think to leave them out, especially for my clients. But I quickly realized that I shouldn’t give up my style or what I love to photograph just because people are paying me for it. I need to take the faceless portrait. I love it. 

So I jumped back in with both feet. Now I take that photo all the time. Sometimes it’s a shoulder or a hand combing through hair. Always it’s a simple gesture or posture that says something about the person that the whole face never could. And I love that. I love the faceless portrait.


All photographs by Lindsay Crandall

 Lindsay Crandall is a portrait photographer who loves faceless portraits and wants everyone she photographs to wear a flower crown (well, maybe not the guys). She also works as a freelance writer and editor. Lindsay lives in upstate New York with her husband and two kiddos. You can see her photography here. 

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