I walk. A lot.
In fact, everywhere I go with some regularity, I create and keep a route. I have one in Sunset Beach, North Carolina, and one in Chicago. I have one in Brooklyn and one in Boston. St. Louis. And of course, home.
The one at home is the most frequented, since I manage to take it at least 4-5 times a week when I’m around. In all weather, at any time of day or night. (I own snowshoes and enough personal illumination to make me a convincing parade float.)
But all the routes I’ve created over the years hold memories and emotions like a sponge, and each time I walk one I both experience the past and create another layer with the present.
The indigenous Australians have something wonderful called Songline or Dreaming Track, where the way across vast distances is understood by knowing a song that, when sung in the right sequence, recounts water-holes, landmarks, and other natural phenomena. Sometimes I feel like my daily walk orders my soul so I can move around easier.
I always bring my camera, because hey, I’m still a photographer. The path is a meditation, but also a gentle exercise in seeing – both within and without.
Here’s a few views.
Creating Authentic Portraits
Every year, I spend a week taking (at least) one non-commercial portrait a day as an exercise in observation and connection. I think about taking people’s portraits a lot, so trying to get out of my own way on this topic and see things in a new light is a bit like trying to learn a different way to walk. But the fact that it is so close to my most instinctive self is arguably the exact reason I have to shake things up.
So I post a note on my personal Facebook page and invite folks to take a slot, first come, first serve. One a day. Filling the week takes about 45 minutes. Beyond that, the rules are simple. We agree on a place. The subject brings themselves in whatever manner they choose, and I shoot.
It gets kinda complex from there.
There’s seeing, and then there’s seeing. The second one, the trickier one requires patience and, well, flow. A key element of great portraiture is being able to quiet the ‘pictures are being taken!’ energy and tune instead into the deep essence of the subject. To see the person in front of you, and then create the image. That’s challenging work that you simply cannot phone in. Silences happen. Awkward silences happen. Shots don’t work and your subject can tell. In the midst of trying to keep the energy good, you may accidentally stomp all over it. The camera can intimidate instead of inspire. The list of ways to de-rail is endless. But so are the ways back in. And my job is to be awake and aware of the person in front of me so that I can continually bring us back to their individual spirit.
Anyway, the interesting thing about that, or at least the thing that I wanted to share with you – is that I while do spend time thinking about the technical aspects of the shot (where, how, with what lights and clothes and stuff), I also spend a lot of time thinking about the person. Actually, I spend more time on that than any other part of the process. Which may sound weird, but hear me out in the form of a question: What is the one thing that is unique in a portrait? Is it all the technical aspects? Well, honestly, no, not really. There are certain portrait photography techniques that really work well, and most great photographers use them in some way. Is it the clothes someone wears or how their hair is styled? That can help with expressing individuality, but the ingredients listed above are nothing without the binding substance – the one truly unique thing that can never be recreated or replaced – the person, present in the moment the image is made.
So really, everything else is just window dressing. The person I’m going to see truthfully as we shoot – that magical, complex ball of carbon, soul and spirit – is the most important thing to consider, respect and celebrate. After the appropriate considerations are made, the rest falls into place. Every time.
Wheeeee! Yup, that’s the sentiment here at the studio this week!
One of our absolute favorite clients, Phoebe&Egg, was an Etsy feature. It was absolutely well-deserved. Gorgeous handmade dolls, soft and sweet and absolutely perfect.
I’ve been working on this joyful branding with Lisa, the owner and creator of Phoebe&Egg for a few years now, and it has been a fantastic ride. Lisa is extremely visual and has a real knack for dreaming things into reality – so understanding her was easy from the very start! And on top of that, her ideas are so, so lovely. An added plus has been her love of sewing and materials – beautiful wool, magic yarns, calico prints, trim, buttons…sigh! When she redesigned her work space I about swooned.
Who wouldn’t want to sew here?
A captivating workspace at Phoebe&Egg
Each doll is lovingly, cheerfully handmade. A purchase is made even more bright and joyful by the magic it creates – not only are little hands encouraged to sew with basic patterns from Lisa, but for every doll purchased, a doll is given to a child in need.
I am honored to document Phoebe&Egg’s journey. I hope you take the time to visit both her website and her Etsy feature!
I lived in NYC for years, so I have a real love of the big city and all it offers. But I grew up in a small town.
Moving to the north shore of Boston might make diehard cityfolk blanch, but I felt right at home the second I set foot here in Ipswich. It, like my own hometown, combines the charm of a small community with the urbanity that comes from being a quick train trip away from the city.
Living here has worked out just wonderfully for my photography. Here’s a great example. This series of shots needed to have both a city feel and a leisure aspect. We accomplished both just steps from the studio. And no parking woes!
Priscilla is a fabulous model from Maggie Inc, a real sweetheart to work with! We had a long, lovely day creating these images.
Whenever I am lucky enough to travel, I am inevitably caught up in the perspective shift that comes from a change of surroundings. I think we all are if we consider it. Even expected things, like different sheets on a different bed or the smell of hotel soap contributes to the phenomena.
For me personally, this shift is often the most profound, and most memorable, in the collection of things.
Sorry if that all sounds weirdo cerebral. Let me try to explain.
When I travel, I strip down to the bare essentials to go with. I am easy to addle when I am on the road, and so I find that moving with a simple, logical bag of just what’s needed makes it way less stressful for me to go from place to place. I reach into one of two small bags, in one of two small pockets, and find my phone, ticket and passport. If it is there, we’re set. If not, worry. I rarely worry.
This kind of spartan behavior is in direct contrast to my daily life. I am a bower bird. (click here for bower bird behavior for the uninitiated) If it is pretty and shiny and has some spiritual/emotional/aesthetic/made-up value, it gets a special spot in my ‘bowers’. As a result my home has a lot of places where things are collected and arranged. If you get me. Not messy. Just, well, curated. And think Victoria and Albert museum rather than MOMA.
So. When I travel with my slate clean so to speak, I still curate. I can’t help it. When I engaged in this behavior in my youth, I’d come home broke, with an extra bagful of bizarre things plucked from my journey. Trouble was, they had fit beautifully and significantly in my temporary home but in my actual home they lost much of their vibrant energy. The whole idea of appreciating things by leaving them where you found them grew in its logic, and so I changed my technique of collecting. Every trip now produces a series of images that really have no ‘vacation picture’ value but are treasures to me nonetheless.
Color, energy, connection, attraction. Bower bird in action.