Personalities Captured in Portraits

Above: For his “Familiar Faces Too” exhibit, Des Moines photographer Michael Watson went old-school: using film and developing and printing the photos in his darkroom. 

By Lacy Brunnette

Des Moines photographer Michael Watson’s “Familiar Faces Too” opened to a packed house at Art Terrarium this past Friday. The exhibit showcases 150 framed portraits, which line the walls and are staged among the shop’s plants and succulents.

“One camera was used for every photo, they were all on the same film stock, and each photo was taken in the same location on either a plain white or plain black backdrop,” Watson says. “Within these limitations, I wanted [the portraits] to show 150 people’s unique personalities

Watson adds that the “community aspect” of the project also influenced him: “I wanted to bring this collection of artists, friends and otherwise interesting human beings to one place and force interaction and, hopefully, breed collaboration.”

This sequel installment to “Familiar Faces”—originally shown in 2012 as Watson’s first gallery show—features portraits shot on 35mm black and white film, hand-developed and printed at his darkroom, the Gray Scale.

“The revival in print is incredibly important to me as an artist; the digitalization of art is mostly harmful, in my opinion. It has made art disposable and something you quickly scroll past on your timeline rather than interact with and look enough into to understand the message the artist is trying to deliver,” Watson explains.

In addition, he says, a photo’s details are lost when viewed only on a mobile screen. “I love being able to physically hold a piece of art in my hands. That real visceral reaction to physical art is vital to the intended experience of art,” he says.

“Familiar Faces Too” runs through Jan. 31. Art Terrarium is located at Elevencherry,106 11th St. downtown. More information about Watson’s work is available at or on Instagram at @forever_goldd.

Just down the block, another photography exhibit recently opened at the Des Moines Social Club’s Basement by award-winning outside adventure photographer Skyler Knutzen. Follow her work on Instagram at @skylerknutzen.

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