Blog #212 6/27/17
Cheryl Hines, holding Baby’s Breath. Photographed in Los Angeles, for Vanity Fair, January, 2011.
With every portrait session, the photographer faces the challenge of creating something original and compelling for him or herself, as well as for the eyes of others, and also aesthetically in tune within the soul of the subject. Every time I plan a new portrait I ask myself, “What can I do that is new and remarkable — that will thrill me?” Obviously it would be especially stunning if the photograph wows the world.
There’s no single formula for getting that result. Much depends on the subject, of course, and how much he or she is willing to be a partner in the sitting. When the sitter is trusting, playful, courageous and willing to try anything, it’s possible to add odd, unexpected elements that can be brought to bear.
What these elements are depends on two things: The imagination of the artist, and the willing ability to get the sitter to “play along.”
This blog is about the incorporation of props or techniques to invigorate the look and feel of a classic portrait.
Knowing he loved to dance the Tango, I asked Oscar De La Renta to do just that, even suggesting that he let it be sexy. (from The Virtuoso, with designer/author Ken Carbone). Photographed in New York, September, 1999
Harry Edwards, PhD, socialist and civil rights activist. Photographed for Sports Illustrated, June, 2001. I made a constricting corner somewhat like what Irving Penn did, but I modified it by using semi-reflecting surfaces. What I wanted to illustrate was that there is a lot more to Edwards, a respected professor, than meets the eye.
Jonathan Singer photographs rare flowers and plants in remote areas of the world, e.g. trekking miles in the jungles of New Guinea, climbing tall vines and photographing flowers no man has ever seen. To illuminate his unique career, I placed real lily pads on the water of my pool, gave him an umbrella and produced rain.
Called by the New Yorker “the most widely read man in the world,” Matthew Carter is a renowned and highly awarded type designer. I used his fonts in a brightly-colored slide projected behind him. (from The Virtuoso, with designer/author Ken Carbone) Photographed in New York, March, 1999.
As in the best portrait sessions, he and I made a connection. In a sense, a portrait photographer is an interviewer. Curiosity about what a sitter does and has done is a vital key to establishing a trusting bond. We both felt that the time we spent creating this image was fruitful and fun.
I was able to call him some time later and asked him to work on a font I was developing with a light wand moved by a dancer, Lenna Parr.
Under our direction Lenna guided the light wand to form the “type.” Photographed in New York, February, 2006.
He came to the studio and his generous guidance was crucial to the execution and the development of “The Wand Font.”
The entire Font.
John Woo, Movie director. (from The Virtuoso, with designer/author Ken Carbone) Photographed in Hawaii, July, 2000. Like other fine directors, Woo looks at scenes and characters from many angles; a glass ball produced another angle, on him.
Jeff Goldblum behind glass rods, Photographed in New York, for Vanity Fair, August, 2008. The optics of the rods reverses the image as it did with the ball (above), so that it goes back and forth from right to left. The actor often plays complex, oddball characters; I felt that the puzzling switches were fitting.
What can I say. I believed Tracy Morgan would do anything…and I was right.
Photographed in New York for Vanity Fair, October, 2010
The actor, Joe Pantoliano, told me he loved doing “crazy.” Photographed in New York, for Vanity Fair, October, 2011.
Renowned marine biologist, Sylvia Earle, has been described as “the first hero of the planet.” Putting her, fully dressed (with pearls) in the surf of the Pacific Ocean, seemed just right (at least she thought so). The odd, double umbrella was one of those sweet touches that sprang out of my imagination. This is an example of the way a “gimmicky” idea can end up with a portrait that sticks in one’s mind. (from my book, Gifted Women) Photographed in San Francisco, July, 1998.
Patrick Adams, best known for his leading role on the TV hit series “Suits,” went along with my idea to illustrate the anxiety of the actor when the set lights come on and the director shouts “Action!” Photographed in New York for Vanity Fair, March, 2012.
The world’s most famous glass artist/sculptor, Dale Chihuly, recognizable far more by his work than his physical being. No one creates glass sculptures that look like his; I felt that taking this risk with his portrait, turning him away from the lens, well symbolized the odd combination of fame and anonymity of many visual artists. (from The Virtuoso, with designer/author Ken Carbone) Photographed at the American Museum of Folk Art, August, 1998.
Prima Ballerina, Katita Waldo. She holds the book “Seeing Red” the cover of which contains her portrait made 10 years before (one of the first serious portraits I ever made). Photographed in Fairfax, California, May, 2000.