Monthly Archives: November 2013

Photographing Leaders

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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 beĀ  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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Winners and Losers

Along with all the amazing possibilities in the digital realmĀ  have come the wires and constant “checking”. What is lost is the need for a certain kind of concentration; of previsualization; a certain way of being in a given photographic moment. I am not sure one takes better pictures one way or the other; but I don’t get the same feeling of immersion shooting digitally. I said to a friend recently that when I shoot pixels my pictures go to the computer and when I shoot film they go straight to my heart. There is a certain analogy here with an electric guitar and an acoustic guitar; or perhaps my Honda Pilot and my old (and long gone) ’46 Willys. There is something tactile and accessible about the latter. Put your ear to the soundbox of an acoustic and play a full chord; open up the hood of the Willy’s and pull the carburetor; listen to the sound of a Hasselblad going about its business …

John Earle, photographer, milton glaser, selling outsomething lost … something gained.

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