Thinking a lot about backgrounds. And diagonals. And catch lights. And texture.

Woody came into my studio to do a shoot for a live theater production of a play called, "The Illusionist." (Or something along those lines). The marketing director was also looking for some dramatic portrait shots to put into the marketing mix. As strange as it may sound to photographers who came of age in the time of digital we did a lot of our work at the time in black and white; with black and white film, and black and white prints, because some of the newspapers, weeklies, and magazines had large sections that were only black and white. It was a cost saving measure. Their printers needed 8x10 inch black and white prints which were then half-toned with process cameras for printed reproduction on web presses. Images needed their own graphic contrast if they were to survive the process with any semblance of quality.

We learned how to print individual prints for nearly every paper, neighborhood rag and magazine that used our publicity photographs.

I loved tossing light into half the background and plunging the other half into darkness. I loved filtering the lens with a light yellow-green filter so Try-X would add tone and texture to skin. And I loved tweaking each print for its intended destination.

Today, once you hand off a digital file to an online magazine or website you may come back to see what they've done with your work a few days later to find that they've added teddy and inappropriate filters, cropped the hell out of it or cut out the head and dropped it into a totally different background. Butchering your art has just become so easy that it seems touching it and messing with it has become irresistible.

At some point in time printers and art directors appreciated certain aesthetic points enough to keep their damn hands off the buttons and let a well seen print exist as it was meant to be.

At least if one writes and produces one's own blog one can be reasonably assured that one will not come back the next day to find one's work colorized and mezzotinted; much less tortured by Instagram filters.

For me the two things that make this portrait work are the background and the catch light in Woody's right eye. Not the right eye of the print but Woody's right eye. Right?


  1. Must be from the day when editors of newspapers and other print media referred to photos as “the art”. As in, when determining how a story would play on the page, “I dunno...whadda we got for the art?”

  2. This is a superb portrait. Absolutely one of your best.

    I'd love to see you do some more in this style.


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  4. Hi Kirk -
    I was just looking at a book I bought about a year ago - Edward Steichen: In High Fashion.
    It seems that he used all the lighting tricks in the book and outside the book.
    Thought this may interest you since you do so much with lighting.
    Also, in this book you get for free many great portraits of the who’s who of the 1920's and 1930's.

    Regards, Yoram


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