The Return of the Portrait Studio

photography by Caroll Taveras
interview by Natalie Matutschovsky

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“My family’s old photos have always provided inspiration for my personal work. My relatives in Colombia loved to dress up and have their portraits taken at their local portrait studio. This tradition is now disappearing in many parts of the world. During the three weeks my studio was open, I noticed that people enjoy being a part of this process, and how much they miss it.

“The Photo Studio project is a natural progression for my portrait work, and a way to pursue my interest in recording different communities. The studio itself was located on a block with lots of foot traffic in downtown Brooklyn. It opened the day after the Obama inauguration. Some days the studio was full of people, and many took the opportunity to talk with others waiting patiently for their sitting. I was pleased to see such a sense of community.

“I also realized how much people love to be photographed even when they say they don’t. When someone says ‘I hate having my portrait taken,’ they’re usually implying that they don’t like the way they look in the pictures that have been taken of them. After our sessions together, the people who didn’t like having their picture taken were the ones who came back again and again.

“I really enjoyed working with the sitters who wanted their portraits to tell a story. Sofia, a little girl, came in with her mom and then decided to come back dressed in her princess outfit. There was also a woman who came in with several of her family photos. She explained to me that her family had a tradition of going to photo studios, and she wanted to continue this and be photographed with her family’s history. She had just purchased several frames at the Target store down the street so that she could display these old pictures, and had even taken the glass out of the frames so there wouldn’t be any reflections from the flash. There were many instances like these, where the sitters were not at all passive. The sessions became collaborations, and I was always excited to see who would come through the door next.”

—Caroll Taveras