Tag Archives: Portraiture

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.

Posted in ALL, Artist/Author, Executive Portraiture, High Profile, Thoughts Also tagged , , , , , , |

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).



Posted in ALL, Portraits, Thoughts, Uncategorized Also tagged , , |

Fishing Trumps Photography … oops!

Nate … sweet cast

So here is the scene … two old (92 and 84) friends … a pristene river … beautiful, rambunctious trout … spring hatches … it was a movie aching to be made … perhaps “A River RanThrough it”. What did I do? You got it. I fished … and enjoyed the camaradie of fine men. There aren’t a lot of things that get between me and the picture. Family is one, without apology. Fishing, I found, was the other. It was a fine time that I couldn’t bring myself to intrude upon with a myopic artistic energy. Oh,  but the ones that got away … really.

Fishing with Friends

Dave & Bryant … Fish on


Posted in ALL, Stories, Thoughts, Uncategorized Also tagged , , , , , |

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



Posted in ALL, Artist/Author, Portraits, Thoughts, Uncategorized Also tagged , , , , |


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.

Posted in ALL, Artist/Author, Portraits, Thoughts Also tagged , , , |

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.

Posted in ALL, Artist/Author, Portraits, Uncategorized Also tagged , , , , , , , , |

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

Posted in ALL, Artist/Author, High Profile, Portraits Also tagged , , , , |

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.

Posted in ALL, Executive Portraiture, Portraits Also tagged , , , , , , , |