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.
A portrait session with me is a friendship session. If you’re letting yourself be photographed by me you are agreeing to be my friend. That’s non-negotiable. And I’ll tell you why. If we don’t develop some chemistry, if we don’t bond in some way, your photo will appear stiff, false. And it has to be real. I want to know something about who you are, so that in opening up to me you switch on that energy that others can read.
So you may be a stranger in the sense that I know little about you. We may have never met before. But when you stand before my lens I have to see more than just hair, clothes, and skin. I can’t photograph a total stranger as effectively as I can a person who is willing to divulge a little. I will do the same. It’ll be a fair exchange. You’ll get to know a little about me too. Like, for instance, I’m originally from New York, Long Island. A town called Port Washington. I came out to California in 1988. I have two daughter, 19 and 17, and I wrote a novel called Serpent Box that was published by Harper-Collins in 2008. That’s a start. There are some conversations here.
Now, tell me about you.