by Himself | Filed Under Random Musings
Taking photographs is an odd business — cutting experience into thin slices of 1/60th of a second or so. What goes on in those many thousand 1/60ths of a second when the shutter is closed? Well quite a lot, of course, and that is the gulf that separates the photographer who was there and “saw it all” and the viewer who just sees those minuscule slices caught when the shutter was open. So photographs are not life, or anything very like it, but the photoshoot is not life either. A photoshoot is a collaboration (some might say a connivance) between the models and the guy with the camera to create images that reflect a state of affairs that in some sense never happened. If it is well done, the images will contain the truth of the subject, but only part of it — the part that the subjects and the photographer jointly agree that they want others to see.
Something happened during a shoot some years ago that brought this point home to me in a way I found both very touching and poignantly funny. I was photographing two women making love – a married couple – and during a particularly heated moment, one tapped the other ever so gently on the nose and whispered in her ear, “photoshoot, dear”, meaning that the tempo was increasing to the point to where the camera could not keep up. But there was a more important message — that the spirit of collaboration was in danger of being lost.
This collaboration is vital to the whole notion of a true portrait, and it is a dicey business; all the more so when when the subject is erotic. To get a true portrait, the photographer must be unobtrusive but by the same token cannot be invisible. If s/he becomes invisible, we have entered into the realm of unalloyed voyeurism. Now voyeurism may be bad or not according to the circumstances, but it is not portraiture. Portraiture requires that the subject communicate with the viewer; that they be joint witness to the fact of the portrait’s creation; that some sharing take place. If the subject is unaware of the camera, this communication becomes lost.
Yet the best portraits are found in unguarded moments. Hence the balancing act of keeping the subject aware of your presence as a photographer, yet making them comfortable enough to offer you those unguarded moments when you can peek inside and see — and record — something special they may not be fully aware of. It is this willingly but unknowingly revealed “something special” that informs and transforms the conscious image they are seeking to project.
It is this convolution of the willfully expressed and the unwittingly revealed that creates a portrait that is literally stunning; that can catch the heart and stop the breath with the power of its communication. I cannot say I have ever created such, but I have seen some, and it is always what I shall seek and strive for.