I love a good portrait lens. The thing is, though, that we’re told that “a good portrait lens” is 85mm or over — longer still for Medium format. The shorter focal-length lenses add distortion when up close, and do odd things to faces.
But there’s an immediacy to the short focal length, a closeness and a reach-out-and-touchability that I don’t think you get with longer lenses, which leave the photographer — and so the viewer — further removed from the subject. Look at the portrait work of, say, Rankin, and you’ll see a tonne of images shot close up with a relatively wide lens. The distortion doesn’t matter all that much because of the connection that we get with the subject.
Here’s my friend Nick, bassist extraordinaire, shot up-close with a 35mm lens. Sure, there’s some distortion, but it’s a hell of a lot more personable an image than it would have been if shot with an 85 or a 105.