Tag Archives: Executive Portraits

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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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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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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Making History … Portraits

Every few years I photograph the outgoing President of the Academy of Arts & Sciences. The picture ends up on a wall documenting presidents of the last 230 years, starting with an engraving of John Adams (1779). As most of what I do is published and chucked, it feels significant to me to have created something for the historical record. Some recent contributions to that wall have been Leo Beranek (Sorry Al, he knows who founded the internet) and Dr. Emilio Bizzi ( a distinguished neuroscientist).

I got a call a couple of years ago from a portrait painter and acquaintance of mine to collaborate on some work he had been commissioned to do. We eventually worked together on portraits for Alan Greenspan for the Fed (see bio), Gov. Tom Ridge, and Hon. Michael Chertoff, both for the Dept. of Homeland Security. I am always amazed and humbled by good painters. The plasticity of their process, the extraordinary melding of craft and opinion, and the granularity of decisions, makes taking a photograph seem like a walk in the park. My goal was to take some pictures that not only worked for the painting, but that worked for me as well. These photos, in a roundabout way, acquired a similar historical significance for me as those above. Somewhere in the paintings, hung forever in the corridors of government, will be my photographic DNA.

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Nice Lawyers … Really

One fascinating aspect of my job is to experience the cultures of different organizations. Sometimes the vibe I get is palpable. Sensitivity to this  culture is  critical in order to work well. My interaction is often broad and deep, and I need to play by their rules or my clients and their contacts can pay a steep price.  An organization with a good vibe is a pleasure to work in. The law firm, Goulston & Storrs, is just that (at least for me). This is a place where people seem to like and respect each other, find a place to do well and do good in the world, and they get my jokes. I just finished shooting some ads for their litigation department. It was a good day.

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Silence is Golden … sometimes

Any portrait is a process of discovery for me. I talk a lot and ask a lot of questions. The upside is that I get reaction and a fluid energy. My chatter wasn’t working with this guy. Needing to change something, I asked him to simply talk to me about something important to him. My silence created a place for him to be. Silence … live and learn

Cyprian

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Portrait studio business portrati customer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Portrait of a DC Troublemaker

I have done a lot of work for a very large law firm in Boston. A few years ago I had a chance to photograph many of their first year associates for a recruiting brochure. In the course of the interactions, I asked a lot of them if they loved the law. Not one answered affirmatively.

I have shot 4 of the last 6 covers for The Law School … an annual publication for NYU, usually featuring their most distinguished graduates or professors. These guys love the law. This year was no exception.

Neil Barofsky is a born troublemaker. A relentless investigator, a creative and fearless prosecutor, he has made trouble for Columbian druglords and powerful financiers. Most recently, he has been assigned the task (by the Obama Administration) of finding out what happened to that 400 billion dollar TARP give away in late 2008 and early 2009. It seems noone had bothered to ask. As nothing is simple for anyone with strong moral compass in Washington DC, he is ruffling feathers in many different government neighborhoods. He is a very low key, nice guy. He is, also, very busy.

Neil graciously gave us a two hour window. The art director and myself scouted early in the morning and pulled off 5 situations. I like working fast … things don’t get too fussy. My assistants tell me their worst nightmare is me with time on my hands. No problems here.

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