As I practice lighting, I’ve been thinking about what makes one of my portraits one of my portraits. At the surface, skill, familiarity, and necessary tools are important. I think those can be considered technique. Under technique is intention; the reason to make a technical decision. And beside, or perhaps under, that, is emotion; that knowing when to click the shutter, and knowing which shot best shows your intention.
I’ve been thinking about combining my two photographic loves: the abstraction and the portrait. Not necessarily to make an abstract portrait (though I do want to try more of that, too!), but to make my portraits more mine.
The last few weeks I’ve been collecting images that represent some of these ideas, typically as discrete approaches I’d have to synthesize. There are some photographers doing something close enough to what I’m interested in that they can offer guidance. Nick Fancher (who also literally wrote the book on building a portable studio) has some great ideas. I’m not sure where I want to go with this yet, but I know I’m interested in integrating humans into my abstractions, fleshing out these abstract little worlds. That might be in post-production, or a method that straddles production and post.
I could also approach these geometric portraits the way a lot of photographers do: just place my subject in front of an interesting background. A few weeks ago I was back in Albuquerque, shooting for a bunch of friends and family. One of those portrait sessions was for Román, my little brother of sorts.
Román just graduated from high school. After I was certain they wanted “Whatever you want,” I figured it was safe to experiment.
So after some safe, “traditional” shots, we made some of the pictures I saw in my head. Román in front of Zimmerman Library at UNM. Román on a checkered grid. Román next to a sliver a door, like an opening to another world. All while pushing my hermanito to give me real, complex emotion.
They liked them, and I liked them. This is a strange, pointy tip of an iceberg. At the end of the day, anyone can learn the skills to light someone’s face beautifully. Fewer people can coach them to show themselves honestly. And fewer of those seem to want to wrap the whole image in a unique compositional vision. That’s where I want to go. Geometric portraits.
That’s, maybe, my next new thing.