Jonathan Tang: Exposure of Emotion

Photography,Video  Interview and Text by Jonathan Tang, Copyright 2017




Happiness, sadness, love, and despair: four emotions innate to the human spirit. Since the beginning of photography, portraits have captured these fleeting emotions to share with others. But early photographs were not still. Their films required lengthy exposures to record the expressions presented to them. To study these emotions, I considered them in the contexts of their emotions.

SADNESS. Deep, contemplative, still. Sadness sits, silently. On mentioning the emotion of sadness, my models instinctively knew what to do. I turned the lights down, dimming them until Greg and Linda’s faces blurred in the darkness, and prepared a long exposure to bring their emotions out from the dark. Both sat still, contemplative, remembering old memories. 

DESPAIR. Anguished, painful, agitated. Despair writhes, heatedly. Despair was a more difficult emotion to work with – we discussed it for some time before settling on an idea. Despair moved and writhed, and could not be captured with a still image. I prepared my exposure, and Greg and Linda moved with it, rendering paintings on film.

LOVE. Warm, caring, slow. Love seeps in, unhurriedly. Love came easily to the pair. It moved quickly, but yet held still. Their love was hot, and emotional; but yet warm, and caring. While I adjusted my camera, Greg and Linda prepared two poses which showed their love. Their warmth approached me, despite me sitting on the opposite side of the room.

HAPPINESS. Energetic, exciting, active. Happiness warms, animatedly. Ironically, happiness was the most difficult emotion to photograph. Greg and Linda had difficulty “being happy,” perhaps because happiness comes in so many forms. While they wriggled to entertain each other, I started shooting, hoping to catch them in action.

When I walked into the studio, I had in mind that I would return with a set of bright, well-lit, dramatic photographs. Little did I know that my results would be anything but. While I fidgeted with the lighting, Greg and Linda bantered and started laughing. The first pictures I took were crisp, sharp, and bright. However, the lighting never fully satisfied me, and while I turned off my lamps, I accidentally plunged the room into darkness. I soon noticed that the room was equipped with a dimmer switch, and that the lights had been dimmed to their lowest settings, not entirely off. I set my camera to take a long exposure, and revealed the concealed orange-red hue of the room. Realizing that I could not obtain this character anywhere else, I started shooting Greg and Linda in motion.



About The Author: Jonathan Tang is senior enrolled in the College of the University of Pennsylvania, Class of 2017. Johnathan plans to enroll in medical school once he graduates.


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