The images were brilliant—his mom, her siblings, and her cousins in their teens and 20s living their best young lives. But one thing stood out to Demetrius Philp as he searched through his family’s archives: In all the photos, all the subjects were smiling.
Inspired to create something different, Philp developed a portrait series, “Expressions,” that conveys the “wide range of Black Caribbean emotion not pictured in many traditional portraits. ... I wanted to create something that would contrast the narrative,” he says, something that would tap into subjects’ inner selves, showing what might be bubbling up beneath the surface of that facial facade.
Drawing an intriguing facial expression from a subject was a matter of being patient and making conversation, he says, and typically required only as much time as it took to make about five frames. He asked subjects how they were feeling and delved deeper for honest expressions. In some cases, he coaxed subjects into an expression that opposed their typical demeanor. For example, he asked his godmother to close her eyes and think back on times she’d been angry and wanted to release frustration, resulting in an explosive image of her yelling. A U.S. veteran talked to Philp about his military service in Iraq, which turned into a dark conversation, Philip says. Philp paused the conversation by changing the background from white to black and asked the subject for a smile. “He gave me this baby smile with his eyes lit up,” he says—a delightful and unexpected turn.
Amanda Arnold is a senior editor.