PHOTOS by Stefano Cagnato


“To me, photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event.” – Henri Cartier-Bresson

Humanity acts like an organism. At every moment, there are smiles, frowns, laughs, and cries. A portrait captures a single synapse of this system. It is a remarkable opportunity to record these emotions through a photographic lens, but people have grown weary of the photographic lens. It is the photographer’s job to summon vulnerability.

I draw inspiration from street photographers such as Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Frank to capture momentary emotions in subjects. Some compositions are staged, but the emotional response of the subjects is not. Their attitudes are truthful reactions to the encounter with a lens. These portraits exist more as a catalog of encounters, a database of rendezvous. If we anthropomorphize the lens, portraits provide a static and permanent social recognition, one that is needed to maintain our identity and likeness. The lens, aimed at our countenance, tells us we are humans—we are worth capturing.

The following photographs depict subjects from my home country of Ecuador and the United States. The well-coiffed Andrés José sits in his nanny’s lap, wondering if the lens is another toy with which to play. Shoshana prepares her cello for an impromptu performance in her Kalamazoo kitchen. Constantino enjoys a cigarette on a grainy Salinas afternoon. Leonardo scoops coconut and passion fruit ice cream for beachgoers. Michael, sporting a Mona Lisa smile, lets his Ray Bans drop to get a good look at the lens.

This selection represents a variety of dichotomies: staged and candid, friend and stranger, blur and noise, focused and unfocused. Yet subjects all share a relationship with the camera, an intimacy with the lens. The subjects smile, scowl, stare. Some subjects fear the lens and its omniscient capacity. Others relish in the exposure and the freedom to perform a version of themselves. Each interaction between the subject and the lens is unique and fleeting, but the photograph preserves this interaction for posterity.

“As time passes by and you look at portraits, the people come back to you like a silent echo. A photograph is a vestige of a face, a face in transit. Photography has something to do with death. It’s a trace.” – Henri Cartier-Bresson

And so these portraits replace the subjects. The portraits will always contain that fleeting moment, that kernel of emotive truth, for viewers to experience themselves. The photograph almost replaces the relationship with the subject. It speaks for itself.

Stefano Cagnato (MAPH ’16) is a digital humanist from Guayaquil, Ecuador. Having recently discovered the power and speed of computation, he has learned how to slow down. Stefano currently manages property investments in Florida, while continuing to write, take photographs, and make music.

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