Coming Back Around

So much of what I do is predicated on circumstances; a good job is often not a great shot as much as a great solution. It is difficult to sort these things out when, as a professional and an artist, you intuitively are only looking for the great shot. The problem is that “as good as it could be” can never really feel like enough. The result is that occasionally I come away from an assignment less than satisfied with the result.

 

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Jim Stone, Chairman and CEO of Plymouth Rock Assurance, is an easy guy to underestimate. He is humble, friendly, and accessible. He is also really, really, smart. He was looking for a founder’s portrait. These assignments are high pressure for me only because they have to stand the test of time, both his and mine; and the expectations, at times, exceed the possibilities. Given his nature, Mr. Stone was not about to spring for grooming. Nonetheless, everything went according to plan during and after the shoot; but I was left with this nagging feeling that it was a failed opportunity. (I care about this sort of thing probably more than I should,).

So a few months ago, I received an email promoting a widely admired book that Mr. Stone had written, and embedded in the email was a really nice portrait of the author. It was upsetting to think that he might have reshot his photo. I went back into my file and, lo and behold, it was my shot. I felt an oddly intense sense of relief, as if I had been given a reprieve.

In a commercial venue your instincts are often sabotaged by the demands of the client, the situation, or a lack of resources. Sometimes I get in my own way in an attempt to sort out these feelings. As in this case, time is usually the arbiter of my judgement in these matters.

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Wish I’d Shot That

 

photo found on the wall in providence rhode Island

Coming out of the theater in Providence; I ran smack into this very, very large photo. I don’t know who shot it or why; but I definitely had one of those “wish I’d shot that” feelings. When that happens, there is a simple acknowledgement that someone has done something that I admire; but, then, there is that petty little “I could have done that” partnered with the jealous “I want that”. When I am done stuffing all those  reactions back in to their little black box; I can get back to simple appreciation and wonder at how directly a photograph can describe a profound humanity with an intensity afforded by no other medium.

This is not a simple picture. The soft, cool palette; the order and abstraction of the composition; the relaxed elegance of the hands all combine to create a significant whole.  I want to believe that this man was in this place, at this time, of his own accord; and that this is a record of that beautiful and sublime moment where art and history collide. I may have it all wrong; this could be a totally manufactured event. Photography has become more and more suspect as its cinematic nature has been exploited (aka Gregory Crewsdon at the extreme). Still, there is hope as only a photograph can engender, that this just happened and the photographer just happened to be there.

Photography has always been for me, first and foremost, about the record; a means of communicating wonder, shock, and awe. The more it gets fiddled with the more abstract that basic tenet becomes, not necessarily at the expense of ideas and art, but, I think, at the expense of something that only a photograph can provide … simple truth. I was reminded of a couple of artists that seem to consistently create these kinds of images, Eve Arnold (l) and Dawoud Bey (r).

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FYI … Some Changes and Additions

Changes | Studio | John Earle Photography

Interior of John Earle’s new Studio

There have been a number of changes in my business recently. I moved my studio down the hall last summer. The intention was to create a dedicated portrait space that could serve as both a commercial extension of my business as well as an incubator for ideas. The shooting space is small, but highly malleable affording me an efficient and intuitive workflow. A system of curtains and diffusers enables me to sculpt the light precisely; not to mention a sweet “north light” window.

Studio | Subject view | John Earle Photography

Subject View of John Earle Photography | New studio

Studio | Photographer view | John Earle Photography | new

Photographer’s view while shooting a portrait at John Earle Photography

Most important, it creates a quiet intimate space to have the interaction I like to have when I shoot portraits; a space where my subjects can feel safe and calm without the theater of a larger production. After many years of working exclusively on location; to be able to walk a few feet, flip some switches, and do work that matters to me is a real treat.

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Back in Action

It all started when my wife Marni saw this property online.

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It had been on the market for awhile; a wonderful white elephant … 2 1/2 acres; beautful old barn, classic 1782 farm house, the signature towering maple, ancient apple trees; an overgrown meadow in Boxborough, MA. Long story short: we bought it and renovated it.

The Oliver Taylor House has, over the last 4 months, been transformed into a Montessori Children’s House; age 3 to 6. It was, and is, a huge project; transformative really. Call it a sabbatical for me.

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Call it a dream come true for Marni. Bringing her vison to life has been amazing.  Last week we completed phase one; the renovation of the first floor into a classroom for young children. Welcome to the Taylor School.

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What was in it for me you might ask?  Many things: a psychic vacation; hard, physical work that I love doing; working with Marni to create something of lasting value in the world; but the barn workshop would have been enough.

John's Barn workshop

Now … back to Photography.

 

 

 

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Tight Portraits _ Source Code

 

Fifteen years ago, my brother in law Rod Cook (one of the true artists I know ) took my wife and my daughter out on his back porch and made this picture:15536833867_f67f5131da_z

Of all the photos I love, this is one of my favorites. It is a picture of my daughter … yes … but manages to  exist in the sweet spot; the place where it is a memory and transcendent simultaneously. This photograph, a platinum print, resides on the mantle in our living room. I have four kids. We do not create altars to one or the other. The fact that it is there is about the art, not the memory.

I don’t know or care where inspiration lives . To me, it is important and inevitable; but it takes it’s time getting here. Experience has taught me not to rush it: but to believe it will arrive. There is lots to do in the meantime … like life.

A few years ago I took these pictures …

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Three months ago I figured out what to do with them. I like them a lot. I was trying to find the place where specific and subjective becomes metaphor. Recently i noticed the obvious parallel to the aforementioned photo of Margaret. What comes from where is a mystery to me … everything matters, nothing is wasted. When I am inspired, I do the work.  When I am done, I let other people wonder about it.

 

 

 

 

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Fishing Trumps Photography … oops!

Nate … sweet cast

So here is the scene … two old (92 and 84) friends … a pristene river … beautiful, rambunctious trout … spring hatches … it was a movie aching to be made … perhaps “A River RanThrough it”. What did I do? You got it. I fished … and enjoyed the camaradie of fine men. There aren’t a lot of things that get between me and the picture. Family is one, without apology. Fishing, I found, was the other. It was a fine time that I couldn’t bring myself to intrude upon with a myopic artistic energy. Oh,  but the ones that got away … really.

Fishing with Friends

Dave & Bryant … Fish on

 

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The Venerable Headshot

The head shot has been around for a very long time … they just took a little longer back then. Bear with me here … I was an art history major. I am occasionally asked to produce these portraits for my clients, usually for their website “about” pages. (used to be for the back pages of annual reports). These are fairly simple endeavors with well prescribed parameters: head and shoulders, nice light, eyes to the camera, visual consistency, and not a lot of time .

What is interesting to me is that these relatively straightforward assignments demand, during the interaction, the same attention as a more highly produced work (See my post The Essential Portrait). As long as I am being pretentious it  is a short leap to the idea of the headshot as the  haiku of portraiture … a simple vehicle to a simple truth.  One usually manages to get a lot of nice shots, but I find there are only a few that sing. Below are some examples of recent work. See more of my executive portraits at my website … here.

 

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The Essential Portrait

All portraiture, to me, involves a certain mutual philanthropy.The core experience is the often powerful interaction between the sitter and the photographer. The camera becomes an instrument of confusion. Even before the first exposure, the photographer is empowered and the sitter revealed. The reveal, sometimes given without the knowledge of the sitter, is a gift. Reciprocity comes with the trust and respect the photographer brings to the interaction. I find this experience in the simplest headshot, and most vividly in the interaction with people unaccustomed to this sort of attention. I find it least in the celebrity portrait where the interaction is so managed that nothing is revealed except the brand. My benchmark and aspiration is the photographer Paul Strand. So much of what we do is about artifice …  Often we are selling even when there is nothing to sell. Strand always brings me back to the reason and the rule … simplify … dignify … tell the truth.

Images by Paul Strand

 

 

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Happy Holidays

Christmas Fire Hydrant

 

To those who believe that we are all better off if everyone gets a shot at the basics … Safety, Dignity, and Possibility.

To those who believe the natural world is beautiful and sacred, and that we need to live with it and not in spite of it.

To those who know that  we need  shelter, food, and love to be happy   …  the rest is bling.

To those who bring ideas to the table … not rules.

I wish you a Merry Christmas and a Hanukkah filled with Light

 

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Photographing Leaders

-Go Directly to Leader Portfolio-

Photographing the people in charge demands both technical and psychological precision. These are people who reached the top by being very, very good at things that matter to them, and they do not suffer fools gladly.

A portrait session puts them in the uncomfortable position of ceding control to someone they don’ t know. They need to be put at ease. The first step is simple. I tell them exactly what will happen to them and how long it will take; keeping in mind that this event, in reality, is the least important part of their day. The trick is to understand that there is, in each of these powerful personae, a place that really cares about the result; that is very invested in how they are portrayed. One must tread very lightly here. First and foremost, the process must be seamless; second, the photographer must, gently and respectfully, take charge; and third, I find humor and a measured precocity to be  very effective devices to both relax and energize the sitter.

One can feel any tension dissipate as this combination of control, calm, and conversation takes effect. In the end, you know it all has come together, because everyone in the room is smiling; sitter, vassals, and clients alike. The irony is how high the stakes can feel over that which is, in effect, a relatively minor event … just a picture after all.

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