I came across a black and white portrait, shot long ago, that I had almost forgotten. I like it.

Joe McClain. Austin Lyric Opera.

I'm racking my brain to remember exactly why we were photographing Joe. He was one of the founders of the Austin Lyric Opera way back in 1986 and I remember this being shot around 1992 or 1993 for one of the city magazines. The image ran big and well printed at the time and later the ALO used it on their printed collateral without my permission. I didn't make a big deal out of it. I knew that the organization had been started and was operating on a limited budget and that Joe was working overtime to get the organization moving forward.

While the web mythologizes nearly everything having to do with photographic assignments this one was typical of the times. There was no art director on the location. Nor was there a make-up person or a second assistant or even a first assistant. I called Joe and asked when we could shoot and if he could suggest a location at the Opera. They has a big storage area full of stage props that we both agreed would be visually interesting. It was. 

I met Joe there at the appointed time, we chatted for a few minutes and then I saw the chair and asked him to sit. I reacted to the interesting pedestal hovering over his head the the matching diagonal of the   furniture on the right of the frame by standing up and aiming the camera down include everything I wanted. We tried a few different expressions and a few different gestures but this one was just the right combination of stuff for me.

I didn't light the scene because it looked just right to me for a black and white image. I just metered Joe's face, handheld the camera and fired off as many frames as I needed to get an image in the finder that I liked. 

This was shot on Tri-X black and white film and no doubt processed in D76 diluted 1:1. Since it was an assignment for a magazine I printed it on resin coated paper to save myself a long wash time and an even longer drying time. 

Funny in retrospect to think that so much of the work we were doing for editorial clients was so unstructured. The only two questions I asked when I accepted the job (by phone -- no e-mail back then) were: "Can I shoot this in black and white?" And, "Do you want a horizontal or a vertical?"
The art director trusted me to deliver something that would work so when I showed up with just the one print no eyebrows were raised. 

We worked. We delivered. We billed. All of the drama seems to have arrived recently, and I'm not sure it helps the process very much...

No comments: