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The Home Guru: Eyes Staring at Me - Portraits as Decor

When you decorate with photographic or painted portraits, you share your home with many other people and their spirits.

As a realtor, I visit many homes, and one of my pleasures is to view the choices homeowners make in their wall art, especially when it involves portraiture of their family members, whether in photographs or paintings.

All prospective home buyers seem to want to know who occupies a house currently, and that may be why many home sellers, wanting to protect their privacy, remove personal photographs when their home is shown. 

Interior decorating is a personal statement and, as a decorative accessory, use of portraiture is as personal as one can get. Eyes fixed on a camera lens or a portrait artist capturing what he or she sees results in eyes looking directly at us, as though trying to communicate who the subjects are, or questioning who their beholder is.  

In my own home, literally hundreds of eyes are staring at me because I collect portraits whose subjects are mostly unknown and long departed, but I still feel their essence and energy.

Through the ages, before photography, only the wealthy could afford to be immortalized through portraiture. Here in America, the art of portraiture was claimed by more common folk in the early 19th century as itinerant artists made a living by visiting households with paint, brushes  and canvasses in hand, ready to capture family members in their best pose.

To save time, the artist would sometimes paint the backgrounds and even the bodies in advance and fill in only the heads at the home, allowing the subject to choose the headless “clip art” they liked best.

The art and business of photographic portraiture started more than 150 years ago with America’s first well-known photographer, Matthew Brady.

Brady’s first portrait of Abraham Lincoln revealed a man, so sincere, open and honest that Lincoln felt that it projected him favorably to his public. At Cooper Union, when Lincoln came to the podium to make his first major address in the presidential campaign, the crowd was aghast to find that he looked and spoke like a country bumpkin, but he won the crowd over by what he said. A combination of his speeches, published alongside engravings made from Brady’s photograph, inadvertently became the first media campaign for President.

Photography, developed in America just two decades before Lincoln’s famous pose, captured the imagination of the country during the Civil War when every officer and draftee wanted to be photographed in uniform for loved ones before going off to battle. After the war, a popular theme was to reveal peoples’ trades by posing with the tools of their crafts. A baker would pose with his rolling pin, a carpenter with his saw. By the turn of the century, families from all walks of life were going to photography studios to pose and to freeze a moment of family history.

Rather than languishing in photo albums that are seldom viewed, photographic portraits can be featured in the home with flourish. Most commonly, wedding photographs are displayed on furniture or walls of the living room or master bedroom, and series of children in various stages of development grace the walls of hallways.

But, more and more, homeowners are creating groupings of portraits, both large and small, in the living room or central hallway, rather than saving them for the bedroom or interspersing them singly throughout the house.

In my own home, there is a harpsichord in the central hall and the surface of it is covered with dozens of portraits of our family and friends. Arranging such a large display is best done according to the size of the frame. Or, it can be done by generation. Whichever method is chosen, arrangement can be an art in itself, especially when the styles of frames vary greatly.

Another venue of photographic portraiture is for business purposes, and those of us in real estate establish our brands with it. We are frequently reminded to update our portraits regularly on business cards and websites so that a prospective customer won’t think that we’re still in high school.

As for me, I’m guilty of only a two-year time lapse since my last shot. And when I get around to renewing it, I suspect that I, like many others, may rely on today’s kindness of digitally diffused focus. After all, while we want to project who we are, we don’t want to scare people.

Bill Primavera is a licensed Realtor® affiliated with Coldwell Banker who writes regularly as The Home Guru. Visit his website at: www.PrimaveraRealEstate.com and, if you would like to consult with him about buying or selling a home, contact him directly at 914-522-2076.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Yorktown Tattler March 12, 2012 at 01:51 AM
Mr. Primavera, has anyone told you how poetic you are? You view ordinary subjects in a very special way that makes your pieces a joy, week after week. Keep them coming.

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