I tell people always not to worry about their skin or their hair. The focal point in any portrait is your eyes. There’s not much you can do to affect them, but you can hold the truth in your heart, the truth about who you are. Your eyes cannot hide you. They can’t be Photoshopped. They can’t be faked. So just look at me and breathe, I say. Show me who you are. This is not really a conscious choice but you can set intent. And intent shines through.
I can provide you with a focal point. All you need to do is relate to me. Just be present and talk to me. Or I can talk to you. Whatever works for you. A portrait is a conversation, or part of one. It’s one side of a conversation, and you can glean the energy and the veracity of that conversation by looking at the results. You can’t be authentic for me if I’m not authentic for you.
So the onus is on me to create space for that. My intent must be open and focused on you. And I have to be real. I can’t fake it either. If your portrait fails I ta...
The eyes, they say, are the windows of the soul. The portals, the doorways, the access points through which we feel a human being. There’s something about the shape of them, the way they set off a face. We can tell in an instant the demeanor of the person we’re looking at. We can sort of see into their heart. How does this happen?
It’s more than just mood. You can certainly gauge a person’s mood. But it goes deeper. You can also assess their intent, their goodness, they’re stability. People often say to me “I can’t do photos until I lose some weight.” But it’s not your belly I care about. It’s not your arms. All I want to see is your eyes and their size doesn’t fluctuate. You’re born with the eyes you will always have. That’s what I want to capture, that childlike look in your eyes.
I understand that you want to feel good about yourself/your body. If you don’t it will show in your photo. But fat doesn’t matter. Confidence does. All you have to worry about is being your authentic self. Sh...
You are a story. And a portrait is a wordless version of that story with no beginning, no middle, and no end, There is no arc to the now. If you look at your portrait, and assign to it moments from the past and future yet to come, you will be distorting it, and may not like what you see. It’s human nature to create some sort of Gestalt composed of memories and expectations but that is wholly unnecessary and potentially counterproductive. Your portrait is a slice of the now. And by the time you even see it, it is in the past.
Part of my job is to take the picture. But another part is to help you to interpret it. When I see your photograph I see beauty, no matter what you see. I have no filters, I create no story where none exists. Unfortunately I can’t be there for every person when they see their photo for the first time, but that’s the kind of photography I want to be doing. I hesitate to call it therapeutic. Let’s call it guided. The whole experience, from the moment we meet through...
He was a stranger that day. He just walked up to me and asked if I could take his picture. We were in Chinatown. It was my birthday. I was doing free portraits for my friends, or anyone who would show up in Chinatown. And I loved him instantly. He was so open, so willing. He trusted me before he even knew me. He used to live in Chinatown, he told me. This alley was familiar to him. He was comfortable and relaxed. A perfect subject for a portrait.
The perfect subject for a portrait is a person who wears their heart on their sleeve. A perfect subject for a portrait engages me as if I were an old friend. A perfect subject for a portrait is not afraid to get close, to be emotionally intimate. A perfect subject for a portrait feels totally comfortable in their own skin. You don’t have to be perfect but it’s helpful to be aware of these things. All you have to do is be yourself, the way you are with your family and friends. Treat me as a family member. Treat me as a friend.
To see a person, to enter their orbit and really see them, is the greatest privilege there is in this life. To listen to the story of another human being is to listen to your own.
I met Maggie through Michele Turner, and together we wandered high up into the Marin Headlands where there was this one abandoned bunker, this one old WW II gun emplacement, that I remembered had exquisite light. It was not easy to get to this place.
I did two ODEs for her and this one has never been seen. This is from that bunker with the good light and I love it because Maggie is looking off in the distance, not at the camera as is usually the case in these ODEs. The words around her are like thought bubbles that describe so much of who she is. Be open. Be mindful. Be curious. Dance.
Maggie’s was one of the very first ODEs, and she positively glows. She helps people connect joyously to work and relationships through an expressive form of somatic therapy that you can learn about at www.thetalkingbody.com
The impetus for ODE was really that moment when I was at Nickelodeon, standing in the kitchen getting coffee when a co-worker I hardly knew walked in. We started talking and I quickly realized that we had a lot in common, that I had been there working with him for more than five years and didn’t know who he was. Wouldn’t it be great, I thought, if we could discover each other sooner?
I thought long and hard about it. Imagine if ODEs hung on the walls of conference room, or if there was a coffee table book you could read when you joined the team? What a gift this would be to your people, to honor them with a photograph and a profile. What if we shared each other’s stories? Wouldn’t this do more for unity and retention than snacks and outings?
More than anything else I imagined that ODEs would bolster team chemistry. I wanted to know not just where people once worked, but what they believed in, what they’d overcome. I can learn more about you from a quote, a lyric from a song, a line from...
This man came into my life through a friend who has since passed on and he is but one of her many gifts to me. I have long wished to do an ODE for him. He’s fascinating, and genuine, and one of the rare ones - a talented human being who walks his talk. Everett Harper is the CEO of Truss (https://truss.works/) the company that saved Healthcare.gov and that builds the foundational infrastructure of so many prominent web brands. But he’s also a father, a chef, a writer, a champion soccer player. When you’re with him you feel like the most important person in the room. He listens, He holds space. And that’s what we need in our leaders. That and a healthy dose of humility. That James Baldwin quote says it all.
We need more listeners like Diana Halfmann. More ears. More hearts open to the suffering of the world. We need more mindfulness. We need to look into each other's eyes with compassion. This is an ODE to Diana, a compassionate heart and therapist who's making a difference.
Shalaco was(is) exactly the kind of person I envisioned ODE for - he’s interesting, he has a great story, and he has a cause. The San Francisco Land Trust.
The San Francisco Community Land Trust is a bastion of hope and rationality in a city of exorbitant rents. The SF Land Trust brings all community stakeholders together – bankers, lawyers, the Board of Supervisors, and residents – to not just help keep people in their homes, but to provide those who could never afford to own outright share in the dream of home ownership.
Shalaco, an artist, photographer and concerned San Franciscan is the Board President of the SF Land Trust. He is but one of the passionate members of this community of change-agents that is making a positive impact on a City in the midst of an epic housing crunch.
Shalaco is but one face among many who are taking action to help people become vested in a city marginalized by a tech boom that is pushing more and more families into the streets. He is a millennial who bucks...
I wanted to do an ODE for Brandon because he’s a really good guy. And I wanted to know more about him. The ODE process lets me dig a little deeper into a person’s story. If I can convey it to you, I learn something by default. And that’s how this whole thing got started. Because I wanted to tell people’s stories. Not the whole story but enough to get a sense of who they are, what they’re made of. Could I distill a person’s experience and philosophy down to a few basic truths? Maybe. Sometimes. But regardless, I could at least hope to depict someone with dimension, and depth. The whole point of ODE is to humanize people in an increasingly dehumanizing world.
I don’t wish to make anyone feel uncomfortable. If I do an ODE for you it’s because I admire you and I want the world to see what I see. Some of these first ODEs have been for strangers and others for old friends. Chris isn’t an old friend, but he’s a friend, and certainly no stranger to me.
He lives in Japan so I don’t see him much but we talk from time to time. And he’s doing something amazing - he’s running an independent games studio and doing really great work. That’s something I tried and failed so I understand the challenges of the endeavor.
His motto is be kind, try hard, build things. He didn’t tell me that was his motto, but he did say that those are the three things he imparts to his children. Kindness, perseverance, and creativity. That’s got all the makings of Latin creed. A quick run through Google translate yields:
indness, perseverantia et proprii ingenii.
My hope is that by reading this, and reading his ODE, you get a sense of the person behind the name. I think that’s im...