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The Faceless Portrait

This assignment ran from Jan 12 to Feb 2, 2015.

Our eyes are often attracted to the face first. Being very social beings, we read emotions and stories on faces all day long. But what we may often neglect in our portrait photography are the clues that seep into us more subconsciously —the context clues. While elements like what a person is wearing, their body language, the scene and objects around them often tell us much of the story, the face may tell us how they're feeling about that story.

There has always been something intriguing to me about faceless portraits. Without the face, it's easier to for us to place ourselves, our friends, or our family members into the image, into the story. It leaves room for interpretation and keeps the image mysterious enough for me to want to look harder and longer. More

Curated by:

Marie McGrory
Producer, Nat Geo Travel
Assignment Status
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Published Feb 9, 2015.
Thank you for your contributions!

See Them Everywhere

Posted jan 27, 2015

It is such a thrill to see the creativity pour in through your submissions each day.

As this assignment continues on, I’ve been more aware of the many ways we use faceless portraits. Of course, there's "The Son of Man," Magritte's classic faceless portrait. Beyond that, we use them at National Geographic as well. On My Shot, National Geographic’s photo community for kids, photos with children's faces in them are not allowed. For this reason, the children get very creative when photographing themselves and each other. GabbyB made a portrait drawing on a wall, Riley21 drew a face on her hands, and State of Grace made a portrait with a reflection. They are all fun and creative!

We use faceless portraits in the magazine as well. This month’s issue of National Geographic magazine features a stunning and powerful story, "Healing Soldiers," that includes portraits by Lynn Johnson of veterans that make masks that help them heal.

I hope you are all as inspired and excited by these examples as I am, and please feel free to share other sources of inspiration in the discussion board.

Be Intentional

Posted jan 21, 2015

Before things get too far along I wanted to send another update. I thought I had an idea of what I was looking for when I conceptualized this assignment, but as always, you all send new ideas and thoughts my way every hour of the day!

I wanted to address a few things from the discussion boards. First: animals. I never intended this assignment to include animal portraits, but I also do not like to set hard rules, as you all often pleasantly surprise me. I am not looking for animal portraits, but if one blows me away, I will not turn it down!

Second, and most important: photos taken from behind. I’ve seen quite a few photos of people turned around that intrigue me, that are well composed and well lit. On the other hand, I have seen hundreds, if not thousands, of images of strangers from behind: sometimes one, sometimes a dozen strangers simply turned the other way on the street or the beach or a park.

I want to emphasize the intentionality that comes with making a portrait. I want to put the emphasis back on the portrait aspect of this assignment. Being faceless is a confinement I added to it, but first and foremost I want to see portraits. I want you to know this person, and I want you to tell me something about them through the image.

Spend some time, get creative, and get to know someone!

Get Creative

Posted jan 12, 2015

I was inspired to run this assignment by Mark Thiessen and Becky Hale’s Self-Portrait story, published last year. Following the story I wrote a piece on Proof and noticed that my edit included quite a few faceless portraits.

There are so many ways to remove a face from an image beyond the popular headless body or hand-in-face methods. Whether they’re fun and quirky or deep and meaningful, whether they’re staged or spontaneous, shadows or head turns, I want you to show me a portrait. Show me a body and their story. Show me their kitchen or show me their park. Just don’t show me their face.

Marie McGrory

Marie McGrory

Producer, Nat Geo Travel
Marie McGrory is a Producer with National Geographic Travel. She believes photography can help us find the moments, feelings, and stories that transcend cultural boundaries.