The Value of a Portrait

This is a photograph of my Gran, taken in 1936. I found it at my mum’s house when I was home over Christmas. I can remember it being in my Granny’s old tin of photos. I would always ask her if I could look through the tin. She liked to tell me the stories behind the photographs and I loved listening to them. I’ve always remembered this portrait and I really wanted to have a copy of it.

I now think of this photograph, as the definitive picture of my Gran, as a younger woman. There are not many photographs of her when she was younger: one as baby, one with her husband and children, and a few with her mother, father and sisters. The later were taken by a street photographer, as they walked along arm in arm, all buttoned up in their heavy coats. There are more photographs as she gets older when her grandchildren arrive. I almost don’t need any other photograph of her. I feel that this one is ample. Except for a photo that I took myself (below), and that’s because I took it. She is looking at me, with that twinkle in her eye. Two photos from a lifetime. It is probably enough.

I take a lot of portraits of people. It’s difficult to tell if they really like them. It is important to me that they do. It’s a huge compliment to go back to someone’s house to see they have hung their portrait on the wall. Sometimes though, the best I can hope for is that they are used as their Facebook profile picture. It is a compliment, but within a few weeks that photo is always updated. Young people especially are using photography more and more to explore who they are, and experiment with who they want to be. I understand that. I just hope that when they look back in years to come, my photographs will still be there, and if one of my photographs was considered a definitive¬†portrait of a person, that really would be a compliment.

I have a suspicion that my photos will have longevity, as I always give people prints. It will be those prints that will still be there, for people to look back on, when the thousands of digital images that didn’t make it into prints, are forgotten about on old hard drives and defunct mobile phones. That’s something I suppose…



  1. ‘A portrait of a woman as a young girl..’ Both beautiful photographs, and worthy words…

    • Thanks Wendy, hope it doesn’t come across as too much of a rant!

      • Oh not at all!
        A worthy comment on a changing society.

  2. Angus said:

    I enjoy your words Kirsty, compliments the photographs beautifully.

    I agree with Marcus, excellent post.

  3. DB Redfern said:

    How thought provoking and true. I have a photograph of my great grandma taken by a street photographer walking down Whitley Bay high street with my grandma in her big hat and long black coat. It makes me feel very connected to the past.

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