I love this portrait very, very much.

I had the perfect assistant for a while.  Her name was Renae.  She was telepathic.  She could sense what tool or prop I needed it long before I even thought about needing it.  And she would occasionally say, "You need to do a beautiful portrait now.  I'll have a friend drop by."  And one day she announced that I should photograph Amy.  And since I never thought to argue with Renae I dutifully prepared the studio for Amy's arrival.

I was still shooting film at the time.  Early years.  Maybe 2000 or 2001.  We had digital cameras but we used them for quick stuff.  Not for art.  We shot this on Astia.  With an R8 and a 90mm Summicron.  We shot all our fun stuff on Leica R cameras back then.

The lighting I used was my favorite.  A big soft light high up and to my left.

I took one look at Amy and fell in love with her face.  She was remarkable.  A natural beauty.  We shot a lot of portraits.  And we played with the light.  But that was secondary to our banter and back and forth.  It was a seduction plain and simple.  From both parties.  Eventually it all got silly and Renae broke up the moment and we all had a few glasses of wine.  Then everyone went home.  And that's the way the best portrait sessions go.  Men or women.  You meet the sitter.  You mutually conspire to fall in love in the safety of the studio, both knowing that it won't progress past the last roll of film.  You flirt, you engage, you tease.  And when you get good images you give your subject good feedback and they push closer to the invisible edge and then the moment passes and the energy ebbs aways and you become friends.  And you know you've taken a wonderful portrait.  But you know you could not have done it if your subject hadn't submitted in some way to your advances and responded in kind.

And that's when you know the magic of portraiture manifested itself to you.  If you can't fall in love with your sitters you are doomed to make documentations instead of art.  In commerce it's different.  That's why it's important to do work that pleases you and the private sitter and not worry about the masses.  Not everyone is lovable and not everyone can fall in love.......

As Renae pushed our sitter out the door she gave me a look.  She knew just where the edges of the process blurred and how to enforce her own mystical idea of inspiration.  I've never known a more prescient person and I've never had an assistant like that again.  She made herself part of the process.  And she was so valuable to my vision that I gladly let her.


Ed Z said...

I was watching that BBC pice with Rankin re-creating the famous fashion photographs (Seven Photographs that Changed Fashion I believe it was called).

in one of the segments, he was talking with David Bailey about his work, and Bailey said something along the lines of exactly what you are saying - "when someone is in front of my lens I fall in love with them, man or woman, young or old - just for that moment"

and it totally resonated with me - I agree 100%, making great portraits is all about being able to fall in love with your subject, just for that moment...

kirk tuck said...

If I'm channeling David Bailey I'm in great company. Must be the clean living or something in the water. Thanks Ed.

Don said...

Not sure that "clean living" and David Bailey have ever been in the same sentence before.

And the sentiment is so true.

I am totally enamored of every subject in front of my lens. I can look at images taken 25 years ago and remember what she was saying, and what the space was like, and what f-stop and what film.

Name? Nawww... I suck at remembering names.

But I sure as hell remember making that shot.

Lovely portrait, Kirk.

Matthew said...

An inspired post from an intrepid photographer. I could not live without moments like these or, anymore, without someone like you to praise them as they should be praised. Bravo.

Gino Eelen said...

I've said it here before: What You Give Is What You Get.

Especially in portraiture where photographer and sitter need to cooperate, and the portrait becomes a direct reflection of their (momentary) mutual relationship. But in my view it is equally valid in say landscape (or any other type of) photography. The end result is always a direct reflection of the relationship of the photographer with his/her subject matter. Alhough of course trees won't react much, so the relationship is necessarily unidirectional. But if done right it will still be prominent in the end result.

In that respect, emotion is a crucial component of succesfull photography, and of art in general.

Steve Gray said...

Add me to the "fall in love" crowd. I tried to explain it to somebody once, and the more I went on, the creepier it sounded. But you (and Ed) explained it nicely. To me, taking a nice portrait is such an intimate thing, and it's only natural to throw yourself into the thrill of the process. If you don't feel a little emotional rush, you should probably be doing something else.

Jeff R. said...

Great insight Kirk!
Regarding the Leica R, are those R lenses on par with Leica M lenses? I have been wondering that for awhile, as I may want to invest in an old R9 or M6 and some lenses in the future.

Bruce Walker said...

Thank you for sharing these moments of your clean living, Kirk.

Mel said...

A street photographer in NYC once told me you know the instant a great image shows up in your viewfinder - you're weak in the knees and almost can't push the shutter. Sounds like studio portraits have the same effect!

Wonderful photograph. Film will never die.