Last night was my fourth year attending Ryan’s company’s annual holiday party. The last time I went, I met this guy Joseph — an interesting character, very flamboyant, very into fashion. I had my Crown Graphic with me at the time, so our conversation led to portraits. He suggested that I do one of him, but that it should be very “kind”. I apologized to him, as my portraits are very.. how should I put it.. well, unkind. That was that.
Like many employees and their plus-ones, I ran into Joseph again last night at the annual party. This time, I explained myself a little better with regards to portraits. Here’s the gist of what I said:
I do no special tricks, no manipulations, or fakery. That is actually what fashion photography is largely about these days, and I am not into fashion photography.
For me, doing a portrait of someone is all about what goes on before the exposure, not what happens afterwards. The meeting, the education about the camera, lens, and process. Getting comfortable and composed, dropping pretenses and attitudes just as the shutter clicks.
In that split second, what is left of the mind of the subject is their essence. Giving no real instruction other than to relax and to not “smile” as many people do in pictures, their personality comes through. A large sheet of film, a close-up view of the subject through glass.. it’s a very close and telling view of someone. It records a large amount of detail in a very real and honest way. Nearly to a fault.
What follows is not a doctoring of the image, but a craftful reproduction of it onto paper. A straight contact print, one of the purest forms of darkroom work. Just trying to get a good representation of tones. Doing a contract print does not really even require much more than a light bulb and a piece of glass.
For a brief moment, I think Joseph really considered letting me photograph him. I will follow-up with an email this time, not letting the memory fade this year.
Even without shooting Joseph, the process of large format portraiture has created an understanding and connection.
I am looking forward to shooting more portraits this year.