Flash forward ten years and I'm in the studio with (at the time) unknown future movie star, Rene Zellweger, and we're trying to get that same look. I'm using the same old Canon TX and I was using the Canon 135mm Soft Focus lens. Same old, tattered umbrella and some variant of a 500 watt continuous flood light. It's one of my favorite photographs. Partly because it reminds me of the silly projects that Rene and I did together (like an art video entitled, "Coffee. Is it a gift from God or a tool or Satan....." lots of long shots and coffee cups, and girls with leopard print scarves and little black dresses......) but mostly I like the image because it reminds me that all the gear is so secondary to the power of my intention. If I intend to do an image I generally carry through and do what's needed to realize my ideas. The momentum of my intention is what makes a project successful or just another piece of crap. The equipment is so much less important.
A second, and most important point.
After my last blog post I got a wonderful personal e-mail from a photographer in Alabama who basically said, "The lights don't matter. The camera doesn't matter. The lens doesn't matter. The only thing that matters (to a portrait photographer) is, how do you get that look in their eyes? That rapport?" She went on to say that she'd searched the web for a while and felt that some of the images I shot had the emotional quality that she was interested in. She wanted to know how to get to that.
I've thought about it all week and I have an answer that will, no doubt, infuriate people who love to be surrounded by an entourage. The answer is: you must make a portrait sitting a very intimate relationship. You must eliminate any distraction for you or the sitter. No people in the room. No tight ended schedule. No fluttering make up artist. No eager and relentless assistant. If you want to truly connect with a sitter you must throw out all the crew and friends and the people who get you coffee and look at crap on the monitor. It is like making love and very few people are comfortable doing that with a crowd looking on.
People will open up in front of the camera if they trust you and they don't have to entertain or make allowances for other people. This whole mania of carting around assistants for every project, no matter how small, is one of the things that's killing good portrait work. Send them outside to clean your car or to paint the fence. A good portrait is a one on one sharing. A collaboration and very little else matters. Shooting a portrait, whether for fashion or your own art, with other people in the room means that you've abdicated your intention to do an intimate portrait and you are tacitly content just to do self serving theater about photography. At that point you've become a hack. A workshopper. The kind of photographer who cares more about how he looks on the video his assistants are shooting of him than how the image in his camera looks. At this point one has abandoned the true practice of portraiture and become a hollow caricature of a photographer.
One sitter. One shooter. An empty silence filled with potential.