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Phil Douglis | all galleries >> Galleries >> Gallery Fifteen: Making travel portraits that define personality and character. > Musician, Kiev, Ukraine, 2009
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Musician, Kiev, Ukraine, 2009

His appearance is as expressive as his music. We found him entertaining tourists in the gardens of St. Sophia’s Cathedral. I made this portrait of him during a break in the music using a 350mm focal length to blur the background and stress the detail in his hair and face, shooting him in profile to match the curves of the face to the shape of the instrument. His furrowed brow and sad eyes give me the sense of a man who has lived his life with great passion. (But then, what artist doesn’t?)

Update, April, 2013: While visiting the Phoenix, Arizona, Musical Instrument Museum, I saw a video of this very performer. I learned that his name is Stepan Shcherbek, and that he plays a Bandura, a Ukrainian plucked string folk instrument, combining elements of a box zither and a lute. You can hear and see a You Tube Video of him playing this instrument at

Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1
1/250s f/5.5 at 184.0mm iso200 full exif

other sizes: small medium large original auto
Phil Douglis30-Nov-2010 17:30
Thanks, Waleed -- the subject is indeed special. I wanted to do justice to his character, so my choice of moment, camera position, and frame are even more important here.
Guest 30-Nov-2010 06:23
what a subject
Phil Douglis21-Jan-2010 15:16
Thanks, Zandra. You are correct about the evidence of somberness. I had the feeling that I was looking at a hard life here. As for profile photography, it gives us a sense of observation instead of participation.
Guest 30-Dec-2009 20:09
Your description of this picture echoes much of my initial thoughts. Taking the picture in profile adds form and a sense of continuity as the lines of the musician mirrors that of his instrument, as does the notes played mirror that of his mind. I wonder I the notes played were somber or joy full. The expression has me guessing somber and watchful… The expression in his eyes together in combination with how his hand holds his instrument makes me feel as though he is protecting it from the outside world…and perhaps thereby protecting himself from the outside world.
Phil Douglis22-Nov-2009 21:22
I think his dreams must reflect his life, which most likely has been a difficult one, given his occupation and locale.
And yes, I will visit the gallery you made while shooting with me in Montreal this fall -- it will be be an honor, Claudia.
BleuEvanescence22-Nov-2009 06:43
I wonder what kind of dreams he still has...
This portrait is indeed fantastic.
Phil Douglis21-Nov-2009 00:31
The eye is certainly wary -- just think of what he has seen in his lifetime? Wars, poverty, tyranny, economic desolation. No wonder he is looking out for himself. We would do so as well.
Tim May20-Nov-2009 22:51
I am drawn to the eye - the sense of wariness that seems to be there. Since I was there with you, I know that he was fine with us taking his picture. But, not having that context - the eye seems to me to speak to the fact that the street musician needs to always be on the look-out for danger, while they are entertaining us.
Phil Douglis04-Nov-2009 22:45
Without this instrument he would be mute. I made this portrait when he stopped playing, and left him speechless for the moment. Thanks, Iris, for seeing what I intended here.
Iris Maybloom (irislm)04-Nov-2009 22:00
Wonderfully expressive portrait, Phil. This man is holding on, both to life and to his instrument, which actually may be one and the same.
Phil Douglis04-Nov-2009 17:41
Thanks, Carol, for appreciating this portrait. You read it well. It tells us who he is, yet leaves room for our imagination to go beyond, and image what he might have been.
Carol E Sandgren04-Nov-2009 04:21
Again, this image brings a film to my mind...none other than the"Soloist". This musician could also be passionate about his music but down on his luck, to the point of being mentally ill. But it really doesn't matter in this case. His face projects a seriousness, a passion and connection to his musical instrument which he would play no matter what. This is a fantastic portrait!
Phil Douglis03-Nov-2009 17:19
Thanks, Mo. I think we can assume that most street performers do what they in order to buy food and provide shelter. I would expect that that this man is grateful for every donation that enters his collection box.
monique jansen03-Nov-2009 16:46
a portrait of an artist who is always hovering on the line of poverty maybe?
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