Tag Archives: Historic

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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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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