12.20.2021

Finishing up the work in 2021. And two portraits, twenty years apart.




I love to see portraits of people from various times in their lives. I've been photographing my friend, and former assistant, A. for well over 20 years. I love it when I get a phone call from her which ends up engendering a new portrait sitting. I think she's become ever more beautiful as the years speed by. 

We did a series of photographs together in the studio a few weeks ago. She needed an updated portrait for her workplace. The one I've included above is not the one she'll end up using for her job because the hands, for that kind of requirement, are gratuitous. But I like the look in her eyes. The ease of her pose. 

The photo session was very straightforward. We used a white, seamless paper background. I tossed some light onto the background with a Godox V1 and I lit A with a 60 inch white umbrella using a Godox AD200 pro light. I made the AD200's light a bit softer with the use of the accessory "round" head. I shot her portraits with the Leica SL2 because I wanted to have plenty of pixels to do square crops. I mostly used the newer Sigma i-Series 90mm f2.8 because the focal length seemed just right and I like the way that lens looks at f5.6. 

The black and white image, made in the early 1990's was done with a Hasselblad camera and a 180mm Zeiss lens. The lighting was a Profoto flash head in a 4 foot by 6 foot soft box. The soft box was additionally covered with several sheets of white diffusion material to soften the light even more. I used Agfapan APX 100 film for this shoot, souped the film by hand, and printed the resulting image in my own darkroom, on double weight paper. 

The end of the year. 

This was an interesting year in that I've had to learn to occupy my time with things other than the pursuit of commercial photography. In the first part of the year most of my clients were in tight lockdowns and there was no getting around the restrictions companies were mandating. Some time in the early Summer there were glimmers of hope that we'd return to normal. There was a spurt of work but it was soon interrupted by the arrival of the Delta variant of the Covid-19 virus. After everyone I knew got all three doses of the vaccine you could see people visibly relaxing for a month or two and participating in a tentative return to normal work, only to be, just recently, slowed down again with the arrival of the Omicron variant. 

By the end of the year nearly every portrait engagement I did was done outside. That was okay. But not exactly what I prefer.

Boredom, no doubt, triggered my gear acquisition syndrome. I stocked up on all manner of Leica cameras this year and used all this nice gear as props for my daily walks through town. I'm certain my accountant will tell me I spent more on cameras this year than I took in from actual billing. That's okay, the distraction of the new gear made the mundane and blandly uniform flow of 2021 at least bearable. 

The sad thing for B and me is that we were both more or less planning on scaling down work altogether and looking forward to doing some longer term traveling this year. It looked like were were almost there until the seesaw of new infections came rocketing back up. Sad because we finally had the time and money to travel to Europe and Asia but are ultimately restricted by the uncertainty of travel and the complexity of dealing with all the hoops one must jump through. 

I had lunch yesterday with a friend who is originally from Japan but has been in the U.S. for most of his life. His wife is Japanese and they were planning a trip to visit family in Japan over the holidays. Change one hit first. Japan closed entry to all people except those carrying Japanese passports. She has a passport, he doesn't. They decided that she would go on alone and visit. Then the Japanese authorities announced that all international passengers would be tested upon arrival and if even one person on the flight tested positive all passengers on that flight would be required to quarantine in a hotel for 14 days and then be retested. While the government would provide the hotel space one can be assured that the rooms would be very small and boredom would quickly become overwhelming. Not to mention the total loss of the 14 days. 

B and I are not averse to moderate travel risk but the thought of being quarantined for two weeks is....daunting. Hence our short trip to Santa Fe, NM and our resolve to pretend to be tourists in our own town. 

I have learned this year to have more patience. To enjoy simpler things. To spend more time reading. To work on perfecting the things I can do; such as swimming or running. I'm now armed with hundreds of hours of additional information about photographic post processing and video/cinema techniques and I've read the user manual for ever camera I own, from cover to cover. I still meet with friends for coffee but now it's almost always outside. I've learned which face masks I like best. I've learned that saving money in the fat years was a smart thing; but I can't take credit for that because that's B's responsibility... (Like a lifeguard at the pool --- keeping me out of trouble). 

I've also come to other realizations. I went to the Christmas play the other night at the theater and it was the first time I really watched live theater in a long time without being fully engaged in photographing or videotaping it. Or scouting for a shoot.  And you know what? I love documenting and photographically interpreting live theater but I'm not really fond of watching it in the passive role of an audience member. My desire to see more theater waned during the shutdown. It was B who noticed that my joy of theater comes almost solely from the challenge of doing my own craft in relation to what's happening on the stages.

On a different tangent I've come to understand that I like self-paced work best. Stuff like the wine project I did in the Summer which was schedule-flexible and had only a broad set of suggested shots. I hate all day shoots in which the client maniacally strives to hit every line on an overly ambitious shot list. I doubt I'd book more jobs like that even if a miracle cure arrived and could be sprayed into the air to hit the smart people and the anti-vaxxers alike. I just have never been fond of project structure mandated from the clients. It's hardly ever fun and the stress makes us miss better shots we might have seen if the structure wasn't so over-engineered. 

During the last week I spent three pleasant days in a downtown space photographing all the associates from a nice advertising agency. Twenty four people in all. Every session we did was outside in open shade and was done on an unhurried schedule. We generally started at 10 a.m. each day, in deference to my morning swims, and ended before 3 pm in order to miss the afternoon traffic. It was happy work. Even the post production has been easy and fun. Where were jobs like this hiding in my past?

One of the most important sanity preserving resources for me has been this blog. It makes me feel as though we're not nearly as isolated and alone was we might imagine. I love sharing my walks and my infrequent commercial forays, and my latest gear infatuations with an extended group of like-minded people. I love the comments and the counterpoints. It's important to stay connected in as many ways as one can. One of the dangers of getting older in the USA is that men in particular become lonely and socially isolated when set adrift from their jobs, and the rewarding task of raising children. Staying connected to as vast a network as possible is one safeguard against the prospect of falling prey to depression. 

I see my social network as a series of concentric circles which starts with old friends I see in person and ripples out to colleagues and then acquaintances that share similar interests. It culminates for me in a wide circle of people I've never met but consider to be friends because they come here again and again to share in the blog. If there's one thing I want to improve in 2021 it's to learn how to bring people actively into the conversation. I'd love to see more and more comments and even some (gentle) pushback when you see me veering off in some odd direction (Thanks MikeR!). 

I do count myself lucky to be living in such a vibrant and alive city. I just read some research that shows the incidence of insanity is something like 2.5 time higher in rural areas than in metropolitan areas. It has something to do with cultural reinforcement of norms. We tend not to let each other settle in with aberrant thoughts or capitulatie to odd propaganda. In other areas I would be considered almost an extreme liberal but in Austin I often find myself on a more moderate side of some conversations. It's a learning process. But it's good to have balance.

Thanks for being here to give a sense of purpose to all the writing I've done this year. I hope I haven't stepped on too many toes or caused too much discomfort. Unless that discomfort has to do with gear. That I won't apologize for. It's too much fun. 

This is in no way a "last column of the year" before heading out somewhere or pursuing some other passion. I'm here for the holidays and having good fun at the key board. I'll appreciate it very much if you just chime in and leave a, "hello! I'm still here!!!" in the comments. I hope you are having fun.