As a working photographer, I occasionally encountered subjects that I had known generally, but hadn’t gotten to know intimately. Sometimes, subjects that I had had reservations regarding them. I became something of an expert at photographing people who were considered non-photogenic. From time to time, I was contacted by a local paper or magazine to photograph a politician or VIP. On these occasions, I often found lovely and fascinating people, whom I’d known previously only by way of the media, and hadn’t seen past the public persona. The differences were striking.
This problem of photogenics came up in my last post, and there were a couple of comments on the subject, so I thought I’d go back to it today. One of the problems of photographing a portrait, or a human face, is that the photograph is usually an exposure of a split second. To be specific, it is usually an impression taken in the space of one hundredth of a second, which is a very short time. When we talk to someone, or look at them, we see a number of expressions that are radiated from the face. These expressions are not a constant. They’re always changing. And what’s more, some time elapses between one expression and the next. It is as if the person was sending out messages from his face, and they come in pulses. Some people project such vibes ten or fifteen times a second. Others can send out their radiation a hundred times a second. If we manage to catch them just as they are broadcasting their vibe, we will get a picture that is very much like the face we know and admire. But if we catch them between expressions, we are liable to get a ‘dead face’ or an unpleasant one. What is most important to understand, is that being photogenic has nothing to do with beauty. I have known men and women who were beautiful to look at, but were not photogenic. And the reverse is true too.
However, there is a parallel problem that one encounters, when photographing portraits, and that is people who are not pleased with their own appearance. It is quite common for a person to be critical about the way he looks… but sometimes this self criticism gets out of hand. Since I worked at times with professional models, I could tell you many stories of beautiful people who had a problem with the way they looked. Sometimes it’s the job of the photographer to help the person come to terms with his own appearance.
Professionally, I had to relate, occasionally, to subjects that hadn’t interested me previous to the photography. But usually, while photographing, I would find much of interest that I hadn’t previously noticed. I always hoped that I would have the opportunity to photograph sports. But since I didn’t know much about that aspect of life, and since there were professional photographers who specialized in that sort of photography, I’ve never done that, up until now, at least. I suppose I could have taken the initiative, but I’ve always been so busy… one reason or another, I never got around to it.
I do enjoy the theater, though. And enjoy on stage performances of music. I learned to see the theater differently though, after I started photographing stage performances. Seeing through the camera helped me get to know a reality, slightly different, from my impressions as a member of the audience, expecting to be entertained. There are always considerations, when doing commercial work, that are not present when creating an image for the sake of art. After I had been working for a number of years, I would be offered a job, from time to time, in which the customer would specifically ask me to do it ‘my way’. Such assignments were always especially exciting for me. These photographs of Miriam, a young dancer, were photographed in such circumstances. They are special to me because they belong to one of the first projects I undertook to photograph digitally.
Most often, my customers had an idea of what they wanted before I went to work on the project. Often, they would show me pictures of what others had done. Or pictures of other performers, or performances, and say, I want something like this… or I don’t want that. Sometimes, it wasn’t at all easy to satisfy them. Because they already had an image in their mind, of what they wanted to see, and it was hard for me to guess this image. But there were also those that knew and liked my work. They were interested in seeing how they looked through my eyes. In such a case, it was a bit of a collaboration between the performer and myself, and usually turned out to be a great pleasure. There were also times, when I felt that I had missed something, or that the final results did not equal the impression I had when observing the performance live. In such cases, I would tell the person I was working for, that I would have to have another go at it. I was never willing to compromise, if I wasn’t satisfied with the work.