Do you have one image that is head and shoulders above the rest?

I took this portrait of my friend, Anne, in the early 1990's. It wasn't done on an assignment for anyone. She worked for me in the studio and I always liked the way her face looked and the elegant way that she carried herself. On days that were quiet, bereft of client direction and drama, we'd occasionally set up some lights and practice. Just for the love of photography. One afternoon I thought it would good to make an image using a large, soft light source with no fill to the opposite side.

We'd been doing images for a theater and set up multiple backgrounds, draped in the background at different distances. We lit those with gridded lights and small umbrellas. Then I asked Anne to sit in an old wooden, Texas bar chair. The afternoon was lazy. Nothing on the schedule. Nowhere to be and nothing pressing.

We worked quietly. Shooting at f5.6 with a long lens on an old Hasselblad. I used a slow shutter speed to incorporate the warm glow of the model lights. I can't remember what we talked about. Only that in those days I felt like I understood my path and my craft and could take the time to just relish a moment of pure photographic joy. We shot four or five 12 exposure rolls of Tri-X. Then, when we knew the image wouldn't get any better we left the set intact and went off to do our own errands and make our own separate liasons.

A few days later I souped the film and inspected it as I pulled it out of the photo flo and hung it up to dry. I stopped and stared at this frame. And it stared back at me. This was what I'd been working toward all along. It was beautiful. But not in a glamour, sexy, hot way. It was beautifully complete and rationalized. It sang out to me as a perfect score. I could hardly wait to print it.

I'm sure that the myriad computer screens that are the dna of the web won't do justice to the rich tones or the complex yet subtle nature of the print on my wall. Someone out there will dismiss the image because it lacks a hair light or the forced sparkle of HDR.

But to me it will always be a high water mark. A place to aim for. If all my work could be this good I'd be so satisfied. But it's good to have a target that you've made with your own hands because at least you have a fighting chance of getting back there some day.

If only you can take yourself out of the way of your own progress and let the subconscious core of emotional understanding that we all have inside commingle with the other skills required to make great craft and good art.

I hope you have an image that you've done that really moves you and motivates you. It's empowering to know that you've been there once and may be able to find your way back again..............

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tokyobling said...

It's a beautiful image that will look fantastic in any size, on any wall.

I know that feeling. And until I started the long and painful road down Digital Photography Lane I had those moments every now and then. Usually with my 500C or an old FM. They are still there somewhere, in a box in cold sub-arctic cellar. Some day I'll dig it up and fall in love with film all over again. Until then there'll be more tears and more pixel peeping and more upgrades and more disk back ups.

I do confess to having never ever used a hairlight. Can't stand them. I don't even feel the need to try one out.

Anonymous said...

What a marvelous image. I'm just starting out in photography at the ripe old age of 57 and if I can produce a portrait half a beautiful as this one day I have no doubt that I'll feel a sense of accomplishment like no other. Of course you had a remarkable subject as well, but knowing what type of portrait fits the person you're shooting seems to me to be half the battle. The other half is establishing a comfortable relationship.

Thanks for such a wonderful, inspirting shot!

John Strong

John Taylor said...

What an exquisite portrait. I to am only recently coming to terms with what it takes to do what used to be so straight forward for me, produce a nice finished black and white print. I shot hundreds of rolls of Tri-x (35mm) and printed on Agfa Brovira. I never worked with lights so this particular photo appeals to me as more naturalistic like window light. Anyway thanks for sharing this one and your thoughts with us.
a different url this time, some b&w from my Tri-x days

Anonymous said...

If you just concentrated on work like this you would be one of the superstars of our industry. This is amazing and quiet at the same time!

Anonymous said...

Hi Kurt,

Just last week I saw an exhibition of Black and White prints by photographer Jack Mitchell. Having that recent experience, I know that what you say is true.. no image on the web can ever approximate the pure beauty of a traditional print done well.

John C.

Anonymous said...

It's an astonishingly beautiful portrait.

Anonymous said...

Boom! There he is. Kirk at his positive, creative best. I remember this one well.

Anonymous guy whom you hate here - bring more of this, bring much, much more of this. Honestly - look at it! Look AT IT!
Awesome, just awesome. Would so love to see a 44cm odd print of this. Even at this small web size it's a relationship between me and Anne. This is an odd way to compliment the artist, I appreciate that, but you're nowhere when I view this Kirk, nowhere. Just me and Anne, sharing a moment. I feel I know her a little already and I want to know her more, even more telling is when you feel she knows *you* (the viewer) a little too! Connection, remote and unconnected in reality, there and tangible in spirit.

Lee McCurtayne said...

Ann's gaze speaks volumes, you have captured, spirit, soul and friendship, a fleeting moment we all long to remember