Tag Archives: Photography

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.


Screen Shot 2016-05-18 at 10.56.11 AM

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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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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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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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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In the spirit of Christmas


I suspect that the flood of traumatic and dramatic  information that washes over us every day as we go about our lives anesthetizes us, out of sheer survival, to the hard and horrible events in the world.  It couldn’t be otherwise. This information is nothing new. We are not a gentle species and nature is a force we seem to  perpetually underestimate. The difference is that we didn’t know then; not immediately. We know now, almost instantly. Sandy Hook is an exception to this rule for me.  The horror of this event in a place so like my own, inflicted on children so like my own, is inescapable.  As we move into this season of light, of hope, of possibility in the company of family and friends, burdened by those sad, sad stories and imagined nightmares, we can still hope; hope that our children are safe in their world, hope that there are warm and loving places that we can all get to, hope that we can see the goodness laid bare and treasure it, hope that we can offer up our own goodness to the world around us.   I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a New Year filled with fine moments. In the end, that is what we have.

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