Category Archives: Portraits

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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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 …


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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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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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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The three components to a portrait are subject, light, and context; with the light sometimes doing double duty. In my world, the conditions of portraiture are often predetermined. There is the “you have 5 minutes” portrait which is often accompanied by the “pre ordained context”. There are the “contrived portraits” which speak to a technique or brand; but not really to a personality. There are portraits where the context presented is immediate and appropriate … call it the “there is a God” portrait. 
Every once in a while a more thoughtful opportunity presents itself. The author, Stephanie Reents, came to me sight unseen. The studio had been prepared for any eventuality. I invited her for lunch and a chat before shooting, enabling me to explore the psychological landscape and the back story. We talked about her book, her life, and her history. The story was Idaho meets New York; a straightforward, big-sky personality informed by a sophisticated New York patina. As noted in my previous post, I am predisposed to a certain approach and palette. The decisions, predicated on our conversation, were subtle but deliberate.

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Past and Present

Sustainable building

Dimetrodon Warren, Vermont

Bill Maclay was a “Green” architect before anyone else cared … a true pioneer in the universe of “net zero building“. Bill’s first adventure  out of grad school was a cluster housing project in the Sugarbush Valley of Vermont,  aptly named “Dimetrodon” for its cutting edge renewable energy platform. This structure has become a classic example of the Vermont DesignBuild movement.   Bill has never wavered in his quest for innovative ways to incorporate environmentally pragmatic solutions into his designs and, today,  Maclay Architects of Warren, VT is considered the leading sustainable architectural firm in New England.

Bill and I go back a long way … in fact to his very first structures … in the sandbox in our back yard. He called a couple of weeks ago, to ask if I might take his portrait for a new book.  Mixing the personal and the professional is always tricky, and I have learned over the years, that during a session; the personal aspect informs the choices and but never the process. Ultimately you have to just hunker down and do the work of directing and seeing … I call it the being in the zone.

You might note an unapologetic redundancy in the use of the background (See Stephanie) … but I am working in my own “Point Lobos”  here and will return to certain places when appropriate.

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Russian Celebrities

Russian Celebrities

The Russians were back shooting more TV in February. It is hard to beat a 376 foot three masted Barque (See Tall Ships) for a location, but Gehry’s Disney Center is a pretty good problem to have. I was asked, once again, to do the print for the VTb24 Bank ADs (the second largest bank in Russia). The subjects were a popular Russian journalist, Leonid Parfyonov, and a film director, Valery Todorovsky. It is always fun hanging with the folks at Mechaniks (LA production company) and I go to school on Michael Norman the director. It is a lot of hurry up and wait, and then hurry up. I make a lot of friends on a film set by working fast.

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Terry Goodkind Doesn’t Shoot John Earle

I love photographing authors. I have never met one that wasn’t incredibly intense. A number of my subjects have had a serious preoccupation with firearms. (Clancy, Parker) but they don’t usually wear them. When Terry Goodkind answered his front door, he sported a 45mm Glock on his belt. Now I am not a gun guy, and that lack of familiarity breeds a certain diffidence when they are around, so I asked if I was in peril. His look implied that the jury was out until we got to know each other. Sometimes getting along is not a choice. We talked about it later, and I couldn’t really argue with the idea that, like a cell phone, if you decide to own a gun, it doesn’t do you a lot of good sitting at home under your pillow. Terry is very smart, very focussed, and, yes, strongly opinionated … and man, he’s got some wheels.

Terry, Jeri his wife, Ivan Held (publisher) and Susan Allison(editor)

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