Magazine article Communication World

The 'Folded Arms' Portrait: Cliche or Communication?

Magazine article Communication World

The 'Folded Arms' Portrait: Cliche or Communication?

Article excerpt

Some of the most common corporate photos are portraits of people posing with their arms folded over their chests. This pose can be traced all the way back to the early years of portrait photography. Primitive cameras and chemistry forced 19th-century portrait-sitters to hold poses for a long time. Photographers frequently helped them keep still by posing them with arms folded.

Why, then, are people are still asked to pose stiffly in this manner over 100 years later? Probably because most portrait sitters simply don't know what to do with their hands or arms. The easiest thing to do is to fold them. Folded-arms portraits made for that reason are cliches. The pose will say little, if anything, to viewers.

On the other hand, folded arms often do say something, for better or for worse, about the person before the camera. Aloofness, hostility, strength, stubbornness, confidence and pomposity can all be expressed by such posing. Often environment, body language, facial expression and costume can add context to help define attitudes.

For example, freelance photographer Pete Byron of Morris Plains, N.J., asks a father and two sons to fold their arms for a family portrait. By itself, the body language is meaningless. But the youngest son spontaneously turns to scowl playfully at his father, and his father returns the compliment. Meanwhile, the older son concentrates on the matter at hand, and misses all the fun. In Byron's portrait spoof, the viewer meets, at least for the moment, a family where each kid feels free to go his own way.

Now let's look at a range of five more environmental portraits -- all of them published in issues of SCANA Corporation's internal/external magazine Insights, Columbia, S.C.

The folded-arms portrait of the executive in the white shirt is just that. The pose seems merely handy -- it fails to express any significant aspect of the man's character. The commercial photographer who made this portrait concentrates on technique, rather than expressing a message. He produces a cliche, not communication.

A portrait of a power station manager standing before his facility with bare, folded arms uses a low camera angle to stress the muscular pose. The subject is complemented by the powerful industrial setting. …

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