This is one of my earliest portraits and still today one of my favorites, there is a lot of story behind this image for me and every time I look at this image it reminds me of the warmth and admiration I have for this woman. When I first began working on photographing people it was uncomfortable for me I would often find myself apologizing for the intrusion of my camera on their lives and space. It wasn’t until this image that I really got what portraits were for me.
Instinctively when I began to photograph people I tried to make myself invisible, what I wanted to capture was not their camera face or mask but the expression of their faces without the tension often visible when people know they are being captured on film. I was like a thief stealing moments from them, it helped that when I started I was photographing people performing who had been instructed to ignore the camera. This didn’t however translate very well outside of that environment. When I tried to photograph people outside of that space in the same way it was often uncomfortable for both them and me. I would hover around trying to be unobtrusive taking images of them when they weren’t expecting it which would often end in me giving up because I felt their discomfort or they would ask me not to shoot them. The images I produced as a result of those encounters were often tense and closed and lacked the quality I was looking for. Over time I became more and more reluctant to photograph people and honed my skills on things which didn’t care if I was there or not like buildings or flowers.
Then in the early 90’s while I was experimenting in my home with camera techniques that required me to shoot someone moving. I managed to cajole my flat mate to help me out by walking from one end of the room to the other. As a general rule she didn’t like being photographed but something in our interaction changed the way she behaved in front of the camera and I went for it and just asked her to sit on a stool and let me take her portrait. The image here is my favorite of the series and the only one I have left sadly. Looking back at that interaction I realized that what I had with her which I hadn’t had before was a connection to her as a person and not just a subject I was photographing. In the time we spent playing about trying to get a sense of movement in the images before, she and I had built a trust, we were interacting with each other and as a result of that interaction the camera and I were no longer intruders, but participants.
I took that lesson back out into the world to see if it would translate to other people, instead of attempting sneak attacks with my camera I came out from behind the lens. I took the time to talk and connect with the people I was photographing, learned about what they were doing, how they were feeling, what things they were going for at the time. I found that more and more the images I captured of the people I connected with had that open relaxed quality I was looking for, they were willing to allow me to see them and not hide behind a camera face. Now when I go to take portraits it is about getting to know the person in front of the lens and what they are going for, trying to get a sense of who they are and getting that to shine through in their image. Capturing for them what they want to show the world.