The Conversation: Portrait Photography is About Talking
You push a button, some light pours through the aperture and a moment in time is preserved. A moment as seen by the eyes of a visual being. You’re like a tourist and every other person an attraction of some kind. Something to be remembered. Each person is like a landmark that guides you toward a greater truth. These are not separate beings. You are not a separate being. And that’s the greatest secret.
It's not about taking a picture. Anyone can take a picture. The idea is to get that part of a person to open that's normally closed off. You don't do that with a camera. In fact, a camera is an impediment to that flow of energy necessary for a person to relax. So it's tricky. You do it with your heart. You do it with your presence. I don't want to sound all mystical and precious but you have to be a sort of shaman. And that means opening a channel between you - the photographer - and the person being photographed. You don't really do it consciously. It's not a switch you turn on, I don't believe. I think it's about intent. You have to want to know a person. You have to care. It has to be real. You get real from real. And that's another secret I want to share with you today.
I try not to think about the camera, just as I am hoping they won’t either. But it’s hard when a big black thing is close to your face and this big shiny eye is staring right at you. The lens is intimidating. And what I want to do is try to get them to look at me, not it. But at the same time I’m asking them to look directly into it which is sort of like asking a person to stare at the sun. So what I do is, I talk. And it’s not just trivial banter, I talk about big ideas and philosophy and those questions that matter. What I’m hoping for is that my voice will transcend that aversion to staring into the eye.
A calm voice engenders trust. An inquisitive voice helps you relax. Portrait photography is about talking. At least for me. I’m a talker. When you work with me I try and make it like one of those magical New York City cab rides when the cabbie transports you to a place beyond location. I’m not a photographer, I’m a cabbie.
It’s a ride, a journey. You’re exploring parts of yourself. I’m helping you to do that by seeing you, by listening and allowing you to unfold. That’s how it works for me. We have a conversation, you and I. Portrait photography is a conversation. And it works best when we choose a location that’s conducive to movement, to moving from place to place, pool of light to pool of light, which is why I don’t like studio photography so much.
When a body is moving, it opens. It becomes more receptive. When you’re walking you develop a rhythm. Rhythm breaks down rigid walls and softens the heart. Most of my best portraits were the result of this method, if you can call it that. I call it a walking conversation. It’s as simple as that. Let’s take a walk.