Lots going on over the last month; but work is like dinner, it’s better to be looking at it than for it. It has been an interesting several weeks of photography including a snowshoe race, shooting trail running, road running and some personal work, a Ms Teen pageant and on going work on a cookbook project for a local restaurant client. I’ve also had the chance to hear and hang out with Photographer Ian Ruhter who has been in Vancouver for a number of local speaking engagements and wet plate demos, if you aren’t familiar with Ian’s work, have a look at the first video he and his crew produced about a year ago: Silver & Light.
Two weeks ago I ventured into the trails above North Vancouver with Ultra Trail Runner Gary Robbins to work on some profile pictures which would serve double purpose for both my personal portrait work and Gary’s need for some new Profile content. Gary took us to a great little trail hub that provided an opportunity for a variety of looks and we finished with a couple of head shot style portraits fitting for a trail runner and event manager. In looking back at this work and the photos that will follow of both Gary and Elaine, I see characters in their environments. These are studies of people in the places they are most comfortable.
By now the room that surrounds Elaine at her Piano will be very different. I haven’t seen it yet, but I understand that the shelves are nearly clear of books, packed and bound for new shelves in a new space in a new home. With lees than a month on the clock before Elaine and her husband Ken move into their new home I felt it was important to make a photo of Elaine at her piano in the house she has lived in for close to 30 years. I believe the spaces we inhabit, whether we choose them or they are chosen for us, become a part of who we are. I can’t wait to see Elaine’s new space, but I am glad we were able to get one last look at the old one.
One more look:
My space is subject to a perpetual cycle of cluttering and uncluttering. It is never static and often feels like a bit of a disaster. My workspace is often surrounded by piles of paper, folders, files and business cards and equipment transiting from one bag to another between shoots and assignments. One day I will make a self portrait of this chaos when I am brave enough to share, honestly, the state of my desk.
A few weeks ago my friend Jane stopped by for a portrait session; looking to update some of her web presence it was also time to update her profile photos. Jane arrived in full cycling gear and carried her bike up to my second floor apartment (and makeshift studio) and after a quick change we started to make some frames. Some photographers excel at making people comfortable in their view finders, I have to work at it. This is one of my favourite images from our 90 minutes and is Jane’s response to “Jane, tell me a dirty joke!” She claims she doesn’t know any, but her expression suggests she does. Her spontaneous and unguarded response also suggests that in that instant we broke the ice better than any good handshake or cocktail could
When I googled “How do you relax a portrait subject?” more than 3 million results came back and topping the list on three or four of the sites that I looked at were, engage the subject, relax yourself, no touching and show your work. I like to show my work, but I think I will try asking the subject to tell me a dirty joke a few more times before I rule it out.
Phillipe Halsman (1906-1979) was a master portraitist and had a bag of tools to “unmask” his subjects from their characters or public personae. Photography Critic Owen Edwards, in a 2006 article about Halsman for the Smithsonian Magazine described portraiture as “one of the greatest challenges in photography, because the human face is elusive and often mask-like, with practiced expressions for the standard range of emotions.”
While Halsman was an accomplished photographer and photojournalist with more than 100 Life Magazine covers to his credit, he may be best remembered for asking his subjects to Jump. Starting in 1952 and continuing for six years, Halsman closed his portrait sessions by getting his subjects, including Richard Nixon, Marilyn Monroe and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, to jump and in that moment reveal their true selves. It would be difficult to overstate Halsman’s gift of revealing his subjects, and I can only imaging what a difficult ask it was to make with some of the more conservative or self conscious personalities he photographed. Photographers today owe something to Halsman even if they have never heard of him. We owe him for being innovative and inspiring spontaneity in what could be a rather stayed exercise and I think we could all try a little harder to do the same.
Read Owen Edwards article here:
Movember has become a cultural phenomena in Vancouver with men indulging in a month long mustache fest and women indulging in Magnum PI fantasies to get them through. In fact mustaches raise money, lots of money, destined for men’s health issues and in November it becomes hard to turn around without seeing a friend with a lip warmer. Last year Movember Mustaches raised more than $125 million world wide for men’s heath initiatives with a special focus on men’s cancers. It’s still too early to tell what the 2012 numbers look like, but these men, and the people who have supported them through the month deserve great credit.
I dropped in on some friends at the end of the month to shoot a few Mo’rtraits in part to show my support beyond any donations and as an opportunity to add to my portrait project from which I have posted several studies since last spring. There is a different set of challenges when photographing people you know well or reasonably well. Knowing someone is to have a set of expectations of the outcome. Is the person in the photo the person that I know? I photographed Stephan and his business partners last Friday morning in a very quick shoot of less than a dozen frames of each of them. In fairness, Steph and his partners are also friends, family and clients of mine and I have photographed all of them before in a variety of social and professional contexts. When I look at this photo I see beyond the nights out, the weekend bbqs and the work we’ve done together; I see something contemplative, thoughtful, quiet and something suggesting relaxed.
The idea to shoot a collection of Mo’ Bros came to me late in the month and I hope in 2013 I will be better organized and get a few more people on board for a Mo’rtrait. If you’re thinking next year is your year to grow a push broom, Ned Flanders, Tom Selleck or Errol Flynn, let me know, I want to make your portrait.
More about Movember here:
Movember & Sons
Well, to be fair, this was about a week before Poppy arrived. Despite my lack of presence on line over the past couple of months, something that I am trying to remedy, I have been shooting. Most recently product for a company which manufactures medical equipment and the Fall Classic, a 10km and Half Marathon on the University of British Columbia campus. Katie is a friend who came to me a couple weeks before her daughter Poppy was born and said “I have an idea for some photos, are you interested?”
We have since shot the after photos, with baby Poppy cradled in a way that mimics the way in which Katie holds her belly in this image. What makes this image for me is the subtle look on Katie’s face, her smile and the suggestion of love, anticipation and the wonder of expectant parenthood. This was a very simple set up, but I am in love with the results and hope that you see what I see in this photo. Oddly enough, the week this image was shot started with a family portrait shoot and ended with a shoot for UBC’s Midwifery Program which involved photographing a Lab session with Midwives to be assessing Moms to be. Looking forward to seeing these images in the UBC Faculty of Medicine’s in house magazine in about a month’s time.
When I left the house early Friday morning to mark the route of a charity bike ride stretching from Crescent Beach in White Rock to Chiliwack, BC about 100km east of where it began I wasn’t thinking much about making photos. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve left the house with my camera with it never seeing the light of day, but I always remind myself that there is a lot to miss in this world and you never know what or who you are going to run into.
I can’t tell you much about the community of Yarrow expect that it sits in the shadow of the Cascade Mountain Range, has about two dozen businesses on the main street through town, offers a great sandwich at the Yarrow Deli and has been home to Hank and his barber shop since the 1940’s. Hank had a seat in the sun in front of his shop when we pulled into town and the sun seemed to light up his white, starched barber jacket. He was impossible to miss and after our lunch break at the town park, I wandered across the street to introduce myself and ask if I could make his portrait.
“I’m Hank the Barber, guess how long I’ve been here.”
We only had about five minutes with him, and I shot shot a few frames, but this was one of those times where I was grateful to have had my camera in my bag. I love this colour frame of Hank, but as much as it captures a certain light in his eyes, it is a reminder to me that some portraits are more than the face they capture. What’s making me crazy, days later, is how I overlooked including more of his shop in the frame given his shop is such a large component of who he is and his place in his community. Next time I will do better.
So far this personal work, The Portrait Project, has already proved to be a learning experience. While I am still working on the parameters that will guide this work over the next few years, or it’s duration, I am trying new ways of presenting work both here and on my Facebook page. Years ago while I was an intern at a daily paper in Washington state, an item in the entertainment section popped out at me, it was a quote from actor Edward Norton in which he suggested that as a photographer I can do what I do in my room, but as an actor he required an audience. In no way am I comparing myself to Norton but in truth I haven’t thought as highly of him since. Photographers make images to be seen and shared and spoke about, debated and critiqued beyond measure and praised beyond reason. Photographers seek to share the world. We have forgotten that before the internet the way we imagined the world was informed by photographers and writers traveling and reporting back what they saw and experienced. What if Mark Twain had never left his room, or Steve McCurry had never left his? Could McCurry’s elegant Afghan Girl have been shot in a studio? Would the image and story be as iconic had it not been seen on the cover of National Geographic or through the thousands of times it’s been reprinted or the story retold since it was shot in 1984?
I am not McCurry, Norton or Twain, but these ideas inform my approach to sharing the work that I do. I have been giving some pretty serious thought to keeping everything but “snap shots” from Facebook but in the last few weeks, after posting images from shoots with subjects self conscious about their image, the feedback has been fantastic. As a portrait subject it feels great to hear from your friends and family how great you look, or how much you are missed. So this is the learning process and I will keep posting work to Facebook to share my experiences and I will work to find a template to continue posting here. Photography is meant to be seen and if you can bear with me, I will show you as much as I can. My shoot with Christopher started over coffee pretty early for a Sunday morning in Whistler in the shoulder season. It turns out, surprise or not, early mornings are something that photographers and event managers have in common. Do you like the way I have presented these three images? If so, let me know.
It has been a busy week. Last weekend I spent Saturday afternoon with Sam and Alex followed by an early morning in Stanely Park shooting a running event and the week fell away from me from that point on; I know it was a little over a week ago that these images were made, but it feels like a month. A week later I am coming off another busy weekend having shot and edited images of a press conference for The University of British Columbia Midwifery Program with my photos turning up on UBC & BC Government websites and a cycling event in Coquitlam which raised nearly $100,000 for the local Hospital Foundation. These past two weekends were book ends to a week filled with much thought and conversation about photography, personal projects and reasonable rates to charge new clients. This personal work, these pictures of Sam & Alex and the others before them, is a way for me to investigate and explore the relationship between subject and photographer and how I want to approach portraiture in the future. It is a definitely a process to learn when to direct and when to observe and I have always been stronger at observation than direction. It was great to see my friends warm to having a camera present, from an initial unease, to something more relaxed and comfortable.
I am on the lookout for subjects in the Vancouver area, let me know if you’d like to be part of my personal project.
In looking at Portraiture, I want the image to read like a movie trailer, or the descriptive blurb on the back of a novel. My best ambition for any portrait I make is the suggestion of a story, something to make the viewer believe that there is something going on beyond the colour, composition or technical exercise of making a photograph; it is the reveal that there is more to the subject than just what the eye sees. I have shot dozens and dozens portraits for newspaper clients, and more often than not, those images were illustrations of written stories. I have been approaching these images with greater deliberation. Locarno Beach may be a cliche place to take a picture, but when asked for a place that had meaning for her, it was Jennifer’s first thought. I believe the places that have meaning for us are an important part of our story and their inclusion in the process contributes to the reveal.
If you are in Vancouver, or in the area, I’d love to hear your story and make your portrait.