I make house calls. I packed my little black bag and made one this morning. It was good.

This photograph has little or nothing to do with the subject of the blog post other than to show 
the opposite end of the aging spectrum; the playfulness and whimsy.
I'd love to post an image of today's subject but I can't until it goes through "the process."

For the last two decades I've done a lot of photographic and video work for a large company that is owned by 120+ doctors and which provides imaging services all over central Texas. Last week I got a phone call from one of the people in the management department. The phone call turned into a request that I make an "official" portrait of the company's founder. The man is a retired doctor. He founded the company in 1954, here in Austin, Texas. He is now 93 years old. 

The manager and I discussed the logistics of setting up the session. Usually, the doctors from that group come to our little studio in west Austin and I photograph them against a canvas background that their marketing team likes, and has been requesting for nearly 15 years. There's a continuity there. But when I heard that the portrait subject was 93 years old I quickly suggested that we do a "house call." I knew it would be easier to pack up a lighting kit, camera and the "timeless" background and head on over to the doctor's house. And I thought it would be much less hassle for our sitter.

The doctor, my portrait subject, called the next day to set up a time. He lives in a central neighborhood, about ten minutes away from my studio. This morning I loaded three portable flashes, a big umbrella, some light stands and a smaller umbrella as my lighting kit. I grabbed the Nikon D810 and the 24-120mm lens as my basic camera kit (Olympus EM5.2 as the perennial "car" camera for back-up) and I added the 5x7 foot collapsible background to complete the tool selection. 

I had photographed this particular doctor about six years ago when several of his younger friends retired from the group. He met me at the front door of his house wearing a dark suit and a perfectly tied tie. We scouted the downstairs of the house and decided to set up in a living room area that had nice light coming in big windows. We chatted as I set up my lights and my camera and I didn't feel the barrier that a difference of ages and generations used to create in my mind. I guess I'm coming to grips with my own aging. 

The lighting was my typically simple light with a large, soft main light used in close, a light on the background for separation and a passive fill via a white pop-up reflector on the opposite side from the main light. The whole set could be contained in about 15 by 15 feet. 

I wanted to make a standing portrait because people's suits look better that way and have fewer wrinkles and fabric bulges to contend with. I found a high backed, dining room chair to use as a "posing" device and a place for him to anchor his hands and provide a bit of support. I love the backs of chairs and use them this way as often as I can find them. 

After I had the primary portrait I asked if we could do an alternate because I loved the Robin's egg blue that his walls were painted. He agreed and I quickly did a number of frames against that alternative background. 

When I finished up the doctor told me that he was quite interested in photography and always had been. I followed him upstairs to the third floor of his home where he showed me a display case filled with the cameras he had owned and used over the years. We talked with genuine nostalgia about loading our own 35mm film when we came across his old, bulk film loader. That led to a discussion about doing our own black and white darkroom work.  We talked about his time in the navy in World War Two, and we talked about aging and living well. We agreed to catch up over a cup of coffee in the next week or so; but only if he likes the images we did today. I hope he loves them, I'd enjoy going back.

Photography is fascinating work because you repeatedly get permission to insert yourself into someone else's life and expand your knowledge of what different people are like. It's a never ending story. The camera is my ticket for entry. 

Today the business this man started employs hundreds of people, provides well for over 100 specialized partners/doctors, and helps to diagnosis and treat lots of health issues for people. What an incredible legacy!


Frank Grygier said...

What a wonderful story to tell. A video interview perhaps?

Wolf Herold said...

Somebody - was it Susan Sontag? - once pointed out that 'shooting a photo' is very much a skewed metaphor, taking a photo of somebody should be a 'handshake'.
You certainly shook that doctor's hand!

Kirk in PDX said...

Really enjoyed this post, thank you.

Dave Jenkins said...

That was a very helpful bit about standing portraits. I've done them, of course, but I'm embarrassed to admit that even though I've been doing business portraits for more than 40 years, I never thought about how having the subject stand makes the clothes look better. Duh!