Spotlight: Steve Korn Focuses On the Stories That Faces Tell

By David Schonauer   Thursday March 26, 2020

Faces are faces. But they are also narratives.

“It is easy to assume much about a stranger, judge them by any number of things, from clothing to hairstyle and makeup, ethnicity, expression and so on.  We often look at an unfamiliar face and create a narrative in our mind of who that person is, if they are smart or not, what they might believe, any number of things,” says Seattle-base photographer and PPD reader Steve Korn.

It was Korn’s interest in the idea of photographic authenticity and the way we perceived each other that led him to begin his ongoing “Face Project,” a collection of portraits of people from all walks of life shot in a neutral setting that, says Korn, “might begin to dispel or at least de-emphasize the value we place on such assumptions.”

“First and most simply, the project celebrates the diversity of the human face,” notes Korn. “Secondly, it intends to challenge the narratives we create when encountering an unfamiliar face and a familiar one. Who is this person? How old are they? What do they do? Is this person kind, quiet etc.? And, why do I think that? These narratives are based on a variety of social cues when we see an unfamiliar face, and they are ultimately just imagined.”

To date, Korn has photographed more than 100 faces for the project, using a simple mobile setup — one light, a reflector and a black background. He shot the images with a Canon 5DS R and a Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II lens.

“The challenge I sought was the creation of a static image with a sense of storytelling or narrative,” notes Korn. “An image devoid of context and expression might engage the imagination, who is this person? how old are they? what do they do? Are they kind, quiet...angry? And, why do I think that? A narrative of who the person is leading to the moment the photo was taken and who they might be from that moment forward is created.”

Korn is a commercial photographer whose client list includes Huffington Post, the University of Chicago, Seattle Genetics, The Seattle Times, Walgreens, AAA Journey Magazine, Seattle Post Intelligencer, National Public Radio, and the Seattle Shakespeare Company.

“I have grown up in the arts — a house full of music, painting and photography,” he says. “Following high school I spent six months in Europe, working and traveling. My mom gave me a rangefinder and 200 rolls of film before I left. I really developed a love of photography then.  I went to school for music and revisited my love for photography in 2004 and have been consumed ever since.”

“Finding subjects has been relatively easy, as I have many connections and my only requirement is that you have a face,” notes Korn. Photo Politic recently featured his portraits of women — “scientists, artists, builders, leaders, mothers, soldiers, executives, teachers, politicians, problem solvers, thinkers, listeners, supporters, players,” notes Korn — in honor of International Women’s Day.

“Every person is a unique opportunity and perspective regardless of gender: Challenge stereotypes and gender bias. Create opportunities, open doors, embrace alternative voices and viewpoints,” notes Korn.

“When we see a famous face we base the narrative on that person's public persona. But, what do we really know about a famous person beyond their branding?” asks Korn. “Of course this project doesn't try to answer any of these questions, only to inspire thought and perhaps suggests the viewer assume less about people we don't know or think we know, rather, seeing a person, not a stereo-type or assumption.”


  1. Willie Osgood commented on: March 26, 2020 at 4:32 a.m.
    Excellent post however I was wondering if you could write a little more on this subject? I’d be very thankful if you could elaborate a little bit more. Many thanks!
  1. Steve Korn commented on: March 26, 2020 at 12:48 p.m.
    Hi Willie, thanks for your interest in this project. If you have any specific questions, I'm happy to answer them for you.

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