Our Uniqueness, Reflected

‘I see her in a different light now. A more honest light. Not just one that comes from being her mum. The photos were a wake-up call for me.  She isn’t that little girl who used to fall asleep on my lap anymore.’

If evolution was only about individual survival, then variety would be stripped away in favour of the most efficient shape and we’d all probably have heads like tadpoles. But social animals that survive through cooperation, like humans, have evolved almost infinite variability so that each of us can uniquely recognised by sight; by our faces. There’s even a small section of the brain dedicated to it – the fusiform gyrus. This ability to see each other’s uniqueness is what helps us interconnect. To bond with our tribe. The phenomenon of something like facebook is easier to wrap my mind around, knowing this.

I had to read up on that; to help me understand why taking portraits can be such an emotional business. There’s vulnerability and trust in an exchange between two people that can feel almost sacred. A portrait can be a better mirror than a mirror in some ways – a peek into how the world might see you instead of how you see yourself.

I’ve known Maggie since she was a kid and her mum tells me that those big blue eyes had been breaking hearts long before she met me. I knew she’d make a brilliant portrait and have wanted to take her picture for ages. But that day, as she turned and looked down the lens, I could see that she wasn’t little Maggie anymore; and her mum’s heart ached when she saw that too.

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