I'll warn you up front, it's a guest post I found in the archives from almost three years ago on my first blog, but it's a classic piece. The images and story behind them are so relevant to what every portrait artist is working so hard to accomplish. It's also one of the most read guest posts I've had over the last several years.
We're all part of an amazing industry and there are people who come into our lives, who, when you think about them, you can't remember a time when they weren't around. It doesn't matter how long you've actually known them. Well, meet our good buddy, Elena Hernandez from Dallas. She's an artist and a great photographer, but more important is her passion and dedication to the industry. She's a diehard believer in education and there's no such thing as too many workshops, programs, webinars etc. She attends everything she can and never stops learning or encouraging other photographers to do the same!
This guest post hits on an important topic, universal to every specialty in professional photography, getting to know your subject! Knowing your subject gives you the opportunity to photograph more than just their physical being - it allows you to capture the intangible, their personality. So, thank you Elena, but not just for this blog, but your dedication to our industry and helping so many photographers think about their passion for the craft! Skip Cohen
"Only Passions, great passions, can elevate the soul to great things." Denis Diderot
A few years ago I had the honor of being asked to go to Mexico to teach photography. The other artists invited were Oscar & Jessica Lozoya, Armando Chacon, and John Tanguma. We were asked to go to the border town of Nuevo Laredo. We were also told there was a war going on between the drug lords and the corrupt police/politicians of both sides of the border. (huh? a war? you want me to teach during a gun fight?)
Yes...We went there even though there were people being killed everyday in this little border town over drugs and politics. What was even more amazing: there were students who were willing to travel through this war zone. We were limited to staying at the hotel to teach those who attended the seminar, for fear of gang reprisals in the area.
I was supposed to have a wedding couple as models, but because of scheduling conflicts they cancelled. I was given an alternative to photograph an elderly gentleman by the name of Vincente Medina. I thought to myself,
" Not a problem, I will just do a nice portrait of an older gentleman. Until I got to know him..."
One night, over a glass of wine....He told me a little bit about himself. He was a professional photographer who was a pilot in the war. He was married to his lovely wife for over 50 years and she gave him nine children. He lost her 4 years ago and they use to be ballroom dance champions. That is what he missed the most, dancing.
I immediately had a vision how I wanted to photograph him. I could visualize him in a bistro type setting drinking a glass of wine, smoking his cigarette reminiscing over the photograph of his wife. In the background, I wanted to have a couple dancing a tango. They represented to me, Vincente and his wife dancing when they were young. I wanted this portrait to portray his story and his love. In the beginning I was just going to do a portrait of an elderly man, but once I got to know the MAN, I had to do a portrait that told his story.
The day came for me to do my segment, which was "available light", and the day ended up being filled with thunderstorms. I originally wanted to be outdoors, but because of the rain, ended up doing this image by window light. I was on a ladder to get a higher camera angle. I photographed with a shallow depth of field on purpose. I wanted the couple in the image to be out of focus so that your eyes were drawn to the man in the image. This image was shot at ISO 800, F4 at 30th of a second, with a Nikon camera & an 85mm 1.8 lens.
As I was photographing Mr. Medina I was also telling the class what I was doing and waiting for the interpreter to repeat what I said. I noticed that while I was shooting, Vincente was speaking to the photograph of his wife, which added to the poignant expression he had.
After the session, I showed the class what I would do to the image in Photoshop. I decided it would look good as a black and white and after I tweaked the image Mr. Medina wanted to say a few words...
He walked up to the front of the class...sat down on a stool, bowed his head and began to quote a poem that was his wife's favorite. My Spanish is rusty, but I could follow what he was saying. At first he was speaking in a low tone but he then got more and more passionate about this poem as he was reciting it. Everyone in the room was crying. When he finished the poem the class gave him a standing ovation. Wiping my tears, I thanked him. There was nothing I could have said to top that.
He paused, came up to me and took my hand. He said he was so moved by the photograph that he wanted to share with the students what he was saying as I was photographing him and that he was so grateful for the experience
I wanted to share this with you in this blog, because even though I was there to teach...I learned a valuable lesson as well: If you get to know your subjects and listen to them before you set up your camera, you just might create a session that's not only more intimate for your client, but will tap into your imagination and find new ways to be creative.
" To Dance With You Again" This image Merited at PPA and hung at nationals.