Monday, October 12, 2015

Sepia Saturday #301: Profiles in Sepia

What a change from SS #300 - the death photo. This week's choice couldn't be in more direct contrast. The younger angelic looking children look like a pair of twins with a sister about 9 months older. Rapt, they are looking at something out of the frame - something entrancing. What struck me were the lovely profile shots, which in this age of selfies, we see rarely. In profile, we can appreciate the graceful curves of the tiny shining faces; the upturned noses and sweet little chins. There is also an unselfconsciousness to the profile shot - camera stiffness and posing anxieties seem to melt away.

You can't help noticing the profiles are all of the children's left sides. This is the preferred side for portraiture; artists routinely posed people this way throughout the history of painting. If choice of pose were just a random thing, you'd expect to see thirty-three and a third percent of all paintings full face forward; thirty-three and a third percent, right facing and thrity-three and a third percent left facing. 

"But when scholars looked, that's not what they found. One study of 1,474 portraits painted in Europe from the 16th to the 20th centuries found that roughly 60 percent showed the sitter favoring the left side of the face — men 56 percent of the time, women 68 percent. Another study looked at 50,000 objects from the stone age to the present and found that after the early Greeks, there was a consistent left-profile bias. When it comes to Jesus suffering on the cross, the tilt is dramatic: Jesus' head is shown facing left more than 90 percent of the time."

You can read more about this bias here:

I surfed around Google Images looking for more profile shots and found a few classics:

Grace Kelley

Jean Harlowe

Ingrid Bergman

Lauren Bacall

Clara Bow

Marlene Dietrich
Looking for profile shots of youngsters, I found Shirley Temple in three-quarter profile, another popular pose.
Profiles seem to have come in and out of fashion in portrait styling. In the thirties they were popular for actresses. If the subject had a particularly distinctive profile, it was the signature pose as with Barbra Streisand and Alfred Hitchcock. 

This photo was stuck in my brain somehow as profiles of the women, but when I found it, I realized it's more the classic three-quarter shot. It was in an Annie Leibovitz book which I had on my coffee table for many years. 
Annie Leibowitz
As I was in the grips of Google, looking at famous women's profiles, I stumbled on this lovely set of photos, admittedly off the subject for this week, but I would guess of interest to Sepians. The young woman Christine H. McConnell, a stylist and photographer, found that looking at her family photos wasn't enough to satisfy her yearnings for a connection with her ancestry; she wanted to actually be in photos with her relatives and so she staged herself in matching poses to those in her family album and this is the result.  You can read more about the project at "A great-great-great tribute: Woman represents 7 generations in recreated family photos."
Side by side with great great grandmother
With great grandmother

Lovely idea and I'm this sure brought her much closer to these relatives - a great legacy too for the next generation.
With grandmother

With her mother
The final photo I have is a profile portrait of my sister Eilleen when she was a toddler. This is the only decent profile photo I could find in the family archives. I'd say she was 18 months or so; that sausage roll atop her head with the ringlet combination was a favorite hair-do for little ones. One of my earliest memories is sitting on the bed and almost expiring from frustration while my mother did my hair this way using a wet hair brush and her fingers to form the ringlets. 

My sister was a lucky child and looked good from both sides. The photographer however, must have decided that the right side was the right side for her. 

Follow the mesmerizing light over to Sepia Saturday for more ideas about the photo. 


  1. Interesting. I think several of my childhood photos are profiles. Personally the images I prefer are not head-on. The more intriguing photos/paintings are those that allow you to imagine you can sneak up on the subject or guess their inner thoughts. It's not so intriguing when you're eyeball to eyeball.

  2. I agree. And we usually pose eyeball to eyeball just to catch the "you were there" shot.

  3. I prefer the 3/4 face, with eye contact, for myself.
    For others, anything goes!!

  4. I now keep thinking of Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard: "I'm ready for my closeup Mr. DeMille."

  5. These profiles are wonderful. And I really like Christine McConnell's idea of matching herself to portraits of her great grandmothers, grandmother, and mother. What a lovely idea.

  6. My photo this week does have a left looking profile, two in fact. Interesting information.

    1. Once you start noticing which side is profiled, you realize how the left predominates.

  7. Eilleen's profile was adorable. I loved McConnell's photo's. What a great idea!!! I'm going to get right on it!
    Your take on this subject is fascinating, again, as usual!

  8. I must say I prefer your photo to the Mc Conell ones. Touching they may be, but there is something slightly unnerving about them as well.

  9. Anonymous3:26 PM

    It's amazing how when you do your hair similarly and dress in a similar fashion how you can look like a completely different person. Her whole personality seems to change. Very interesting.

  10. Those photographs with the lady's ancestors are amazing! Your sister was a sweetie.

  11. I had hairdos similar to your sister when I was young. I think your sister's hairdo probably looked better from that side.

  12. Never knew about left-side preference! Interesting...

  13. Very interesting post. I don't entirely accept the reasoning presented in the NPR story, but the statistics are fascinating and certainly can't be disputed. In my photo this weekend 9 out of 10 ladies offer their left profile. I think there is more symbolism involved in the choice of profile in classical paintings, while photographs may be by chance rather than a photographer's artistic decision.

  14. Beautiful ladies, great captures and my favorite of course is Shirely Temple!

  15. What a fascinating post! Love the generational photos.

  16. Hmm, now I want to go back and tally the profiles in my old family albums. Whodathunk?