There is a lot about photography I love and somethings I don’t like at all. Creating portraits is one of those things that I both like and dislike. Let me explain. Any of you who know me, already know that there are things I just will not shoot. I’m glad that there are photographers out there that will shot those things that I don’t want to. I happily refer those that call me looking for those services to someone else. I look at myself primarily as a commercial and editorial photographer. For me, that means that when I’m creating a portrait of someone there is a specific story I’m trying to tell about that person.
This is what I mean when I say, “portraits that speak.” I guess it really should be “portraits that make you ask questions.” Why is the dog there? What are those things hanging on the wall? Why is there a Bowie Jesus in the background? Why is she dressed in black wearing gloves and fishnet thigh high stockings? And why is she peering over a book of Helmut Newton’s work that was published in Playboy? The answer to all of these questions is simple if you know the person in the photo. There are all there because all of these objects say something about that person.
I first met Cori at the Rockabilly Hot Rod Rumble several years ago. I was going to the rumble to photograph some of the cars and she was going to be there to compete in the Miss Rockabilly contest. We met through Modelmayhem and made arrangements to shoot together at the rumble. Since that meeting we have worked together on several projects. Some for publication and others were personal projects that we both wanted to do. The photo above is a product of a personal project that we collaborated on. Like I said earlier all of those objects are in this photo because they all say something about Cori. I won’t go into what each object says about her but I will say they are all there for a reason. Everyone that knows Cori well will be able to tell you what those things say about her.
If you want to make a photo that speaks about that person, get to know them. You don’t have to have the in-depth knowledge I had about Cori to make this portrait but you should know something. I was working on an annual report for a research lab where they dealt with bloodborne diseases. The director of the lab hated being photographed in a lab coat in the lab because he spent very little time in the labs anymore. He spent most of his time in his office or in meeting rooms. For the past few years he had been photographed in the lab in a lab coat. The PR person in charge of the annual report told me that did not want to photographed a lab. When happened to meet in the hallway he asked me where I would like to make to photograph him. I immediately said, “How about in your office?” To which he smiled and said, “Great!” The PR person had also told me he had a very nice office that he had never been photographed in. At the appointed time in the shooting schedule the assistant I was working with and I set up in his office and I made his portrait there and he loved it. In fact he loved it so much that he used it n the annual reports for the next two years until he retired. Because I had those two small bits of information, he did not want to be photographed in the labs and he had a nice office he had never been photographed in, I was able to create a portrait that the he truly enjoyed.
Working with a small bits of information, learning quite a lot about a person over time or doing research into the person you will be photographing are great ways to help you create portraits that speak about the person you are photographing.