We don’t load cameras much anymore, but we still aim them and shoot pictures. So I still get a bang out of describing my pursuit of portraits as hunting for big game: people, the famous and the just plain fascinating. I get close for a good clean shot — for rapport, not just proximity, and bag my quarry with a four-by-five instead of a thirty-aught-six. But I still hang their heads on a wall to admire like trophies.
The memorialization of an encounter with an extraordinary human being, in one shot so to speak, epitomizes the hunt. When it goes well, that is to say when I’m proud enough of a portrait to add it to my collection, it’s because my subject has allowed me to reveal something personal within a two-dimensional frame, a graphically engaging composition embellished by shadow and light. Despite one’s best attempts to prepare in advance, any photoshoot can go sideways and, like a MacGyver episode, it becomes necessary to solve a cascade of unexpected challenges involving lenses, lights, cameras, props, wardrobe, location, deadlines, weather, temperament. . . Sometimes, the big one gets away.
I enjoy the privilege conferred by my camera to meet movers and shakers; once in a while to exchange ideas and opinions, if only for an instant of egalitarian conceit. None of my connections to the iconic people I’ve met would make any logical sense but for the camera. It pays my tuition for postgraduate courses that cover, well, just about everything. I always learn something from the people I photograph.
More than illustrations of interesting people or handsome faces, portraiture is about making allusions to character, the persona of a human being. I try to to show as much about what someone does, often professionally, as much as who they are personally.
Ultimately, my relationship with each sitter is the photograph. It is also my reward. Rarely does a long-lasting relationship ensue. Always, however, a record remains of what we each saw, looking at each other. In that moment, frozen in time, the camera is a surrogate for the viewer.
Looking at a photographic portrait is, to paraphrase neuroscientist Sam Harris, a hack of human psychology, a novel experience in evolutionary terms because you can stare at a portrait — right into…