Tag Archives: Author

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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Stephanie

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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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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Keeping it Simple … Getting it Right

I am always happier when the idea quotient is higher than the production quotient. Production, to me. is a way to get back to simple. Simple is being in the  right place,  in the right light, with the right crew. Photographing author Bill Landay for Random House was just such an occasion. There wasn’t any art direction, but I gleaned from conversations with the creative director in NY and the author, that we needed  a spectrum of shots, from gritty crime writer (sexy, worldly) , ex lawyer (subject cred), and granular context (this book, these characters). I scouted some with the author, and scoped out  a couple of places I knew might work on my own. We then set up a schedule around the light. All places would have worked under any conditions, but sunny was best. Two great assistants (driver and grip) kept the guerilla nature of the event going smoothly; and we cruised through the whole adventure in 4 hours. Three wardrobe changes, 4 locations;  finishing just when the sun dropped behind the trees. Happy author …  Happy client (there sure are a lot of shots!) … Happy photographer …  Fun.



William Landay Author

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In Memory of Robert B. Parker

I first met Robert Parker in 1992. I remember driving up to his house in Cambridge, assigned by his long time publisher Putnam to produce an author portrait and publicity photos. I found him sitting on the front steps. I pulled up, rolled down the window and introduced myself. His response was to inform me that he had two expressions and then showed me a maniacal grin and a terrifying grimace. It was the beginning of long and productive relationship.

About every other year I would come back for a new set of photos (the last time was June 09), and I would like to think he cultivated a grudging respect for the work, implicit in the return engagements (that, or Joan liked me). I have photographed a lot of authors over the years and he was my favorite. He seemed to soften a touch with time, or maybe he was just waiting for me to grow up. Whatever the case, that gruff exterior belied a warm and generous heart. I will miss the grin and the grimace.

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