In a portrait, we are able to examine a person, to know them, and they become the main subject of our gaze. However, when we are kept at a slight distance, shown only a back, or a small figure, we take the person in as part of a whole. We cannot dwell on their particularities or details. Rather, they act as silent ushers, inviting us to dwell briefly in their mysterious world.

Figures tell us how to think about the space; they are dreamlike narrators with unsearchable identities. We’re not able to examine them closely, but we are able to stand beside them and take in the landscape from their point of view.

Guiding us through unfamiliar territory, figures give us permission to experience emotions. They tell us it’s okay to feel lonely here, or you can go ahead and resurrect that memory, because I’m there too. Once we begin looking at subjects this way, even animals or objects can become our guides. We may only come this close to them, but they will take us further in.