No good assignments coming in the door? It's time to self-assign and build up a collection of new work.

"Texas Rancher". From a production at Live Oak Theater.

For a number of years the portrait above was an example of my preferred style of photographing people. I loved working in my big darkroom, shifting between my 35mm Leica Focomat enlarger and my Omega D5 enlarger. The D5 was the one that saw the most use because I kept feeding it medium format film. I experimented with condenser heads, cold light heads and diffused (but not cold light) heads. I loved black and white film and I really liked the look of lighting that could cast deep shadows to one side while keeping skin tone and texture perfect on the other side. When I made prints I used a device called a Pictrol under my enlarging lens to disrupt parts of the frame with semi-controllable pools of soft focus. I felt, at the time, that burned in corners made a print. I may have been right; in the context of this style.

But lately I've felt the need to make a portfolio of new work that reflects all the shifts I've made in both lighting and visualization over the last ten years. My target for final display is no longer the fine print but the immense audience on the web. My lighting has changed and my approach to subjects has changed as well. 

So, how do you create a whole new portfolio?  A collection of work that clients have never seen from you before? I think it would be very difficult to depend on the outcome of commercial engagements to ever distill down the work you might want to show while keeping clients happy (mostly because you get hired for work you already showed....).

I try to do it by reaching out to people that I specifically want to photograph and then inviting them into my studio or out into the world to collaborate with me and help me realize a visual concept I have rattling around in my brain. If we work from the idea that beautiful portraits have value then our collaborations are win-win situations because I'm happy to make meticulously retouched files for my sitters in exchange for their time and shared energy.

Last week I reached out to an actor whose current work on stage I really admire. I've worked with  him in the creation of marketing materials for productions at the theater but I wanted to bring him into the quiet refuge of the studio and spend an hour or two making images that would make me happy and might be helpful to him in his public career. 

We're shooting this afternoon. And when I realized that this would be a good shared experience for both of us I started getting in touch with other people on my list of "wanna photograph" people to see who else might be interested in playing along with my explorations of portraiture. Surprisingly, no one has yet to turn me down. 

There's no cost to either of us, just an investment of time. But a new collection of images moves me forward just as it shows a different side of the actor's range. This is how we used to do it when we wanted to explore new work. It's a good thing.