At First Blush

At First Blush by Peter Schireson

At first, it’s a straightforward portrait, the subject viewed with detached scrutiny from the waist up. Adamantly upright posture, well-cut jacket, background in soft focus, all combine to give the portrait a photographic quality. Studied more closely, the image is less clear-cut. Viewed from one angle, the subject is a man, delicately traced in meditation. But from another angle, the subject is a woman with a broad, strong face and red hair. Is the man fantasizing about the woman? Does he fancy her? Is it mutual? In the opinion of most critics, she’s out of his league. Viewed from a third angle, the subject is a beast, half-covered in sleek fur, half in phosphorescent feathers. Viewed from yet a fourth angle, the portrait is of a woman entirely unlike the first—caffeinated, haunted, angular features—the man from the initial view no longer a man but a small boy, three or four years old. From this last angle, the beast appears to be a large black dog, its teeth sunk into one of the boy’s legs, the boy’s face contorted in pain. A remarkable self-portrait.