I love a good emotive self portrait. A well crafted selfie is like a window into the mind of the photographer. They’re also fun to create. In addition to the photographer’s cap, one gets to be a set designer, an actor, a stylist and so on. But there’s one thing I’ve learned from viewing so many great emotive portraits: It’s all about the setting. This is a fact that bubbled to the surface when I viewed Rachel Melton‘s self portrait titled This Is My Retreat, shown above.
Rachel’s self portrait features a scene that is pretty common in the photography world: Railroad tracks. I think a vanishing point assignment comes up in almost every photography class, and roadways and railroad tracks seem to be the first two settings that pop into our minds. I’m not saying such a scene is cliche, but the frequency in which we see such a scene in the world of photography is cause for us all to second guess such a scene. But that’s only a problem if the scene is the one and only subject of the photograph. When the primary subject is not the rails, we’re suddenly interested again, and the rails become nothing more than a setting. Refer back to This Is My Retreat: There’s a lot of context in the railroad and the rails and the ties and all of the pebbles in between and the trees and the fog and the….well, I guess I could ramble on. But there in the middle is Rachel, sitting on one of the rails, looking exhausted or distressed (great acting, by the way). Seeing her in that way makes me pause for a second and I feel what she could be feeling. Suddenly, she is the focal point and the primary subject. But that doesn’t make the setting any less impactful.
Try to imagine Rachel sitting in much the same way on a park bench, or on the edge of a beach. What if she were sitting on the bleachers at the side of a soccer game or even on a wall at the University? Our interpretation of Rachel’s emotions would vary. More importantly, Rachel would lose our attention…she would lose our connection. In this scene – the scene that Rachel created – she’s controlling our thoughts. This setting is a place that people don’t typically exist, except on a moving car going 35 miles per hour. And those people don’t sit on the rails for fear of getting smacked by the train. So she has us wondering about the situation, the story…and what she’s going to do. These thoughts, well…that is the purpose the power of and the reason for the setting. The setting, after all, tells the whole story. It really is all about the setting.
Rachel Melton is young, but already exhibits a lot of potential in the art of photography. This Is My Retreat is just one of the many jems in her portfolio. You can of course find Rachel’s work on Flickr. She also recently started a blog, American Roots, that we hope to see more from. You should keep an eye or Rachel…we can expect to see great things from from her and her camera.