An interview with myself
Me one: How long have you been a photographer?
Me Two: Oh, come on. You know how long.
Me One: I know, I do. But there might be someone reading this that doesn’t. So please don’t be smart. Just be polite and answer my questions.
Me Two: I know, but you should ask really interesting questions.
Me One: Like what? And don’t say, if you could be an animal, what would it be?
Me Two: Ok, how about this. What compels you to make photographs?
Me One: Hummm. Not bad. Ok. What compels you to make photographs?
Me Two: I honestly don’t know.
Me One: Seriously? You ask me to ask you that and then you don’t know the answer?
Me Two: Well I’ve thought about it a lot, and I wonder why I do this instead of designing buildings or raising cattle or owning a restaurant. I don’t know. All I know is that I love it and that I can’t imagine a day where I don’t’ think about and take photographs. I’ve felt like this for a very long time. I know a lot of people that love photography and feel like this. I’m just grateful I get to do it every day and that this is how I make my living.
Me One: What is the number one key to making a great photograph?
Me Two: I don’t know what the number one key is, but I know some things that are important. Great light, I’d say, is essential. To make a great picture, use great light. That’s what Kent Miles always says. So for me, that’s the first consideration. Another key to making a great picture is to have a crystal clear idea about what you want your photography to say. Not necessarily that particular image, but your body of work in general. Clear vision about what you are saying will make a huge difference in the quality of images. It’s helpful to remember that photography is a language. Just like French or German. There is a visual alphabet and you use that alphabet to put together the elements in a way that conveys the message you want to say. Just like a writer combines words to make sentences. Writing, in fact, is a good way to compare it to. You know how some people write something and it goes on and on and will bore you out of your skull. Others write in ways that will compel you to laugh out loud or cry. And the best writers have a clear idea of what they want to say. What they want their message to mean. Great photographers are the same way.
Me One: Who are some of the photographers that you like?
Me Two: There are so many. Here’s a list of a few that I can think of off the top of my head. There are many, though. Elliott Erwitt, Gary Winnorgrand, Duane Michals, Lee Friedlander, Diane Arbus, Sally Mann, Tina Barney, Helmut Newton, William Eggleston, Stephen Shore, Chris Buck, Jim Goldberg, Nan Goldin, Leon Levenstein, Rineke Kijkstra, Platon, Kent Miles, Richard Avedon, Arnold Newman, Matt Mahurin, Kieth Carter.
Me One: If you could be an animal, what would it be.
Me Two: Ha, ha. Real funny.
Me One: Right. Just kidding. My next question is about the people you photograph. How do you get them to relax.
Me Two: I do this by talking to them and letting them know I’m interested in them. We have some laughs, and they start to feel a little bit more at ease. Plus, I like to let them know that it’s not up to them to make a great picture. Why don’t people like getting their picture taken?
Me One: I’ll ask the questions, here.
Me Two: Right. But why don’t people like getting their picture taken? It’s because they think it’s up to them to make the picture turn out. They think they have to “perform” or stand just right or have the right expression in order for the picture to look good. Well, I like to let them know it’s not up to them. It’s up to me to make a good picture. They can relax and be assured that I will make them look great, natural and authentic, and they just have to enjoy the next hour while we hang out together. That makes a huge difference in how they feel about getting their picture taken. It takes a lot of pressure off them and makes the whole process much more fun.
Me One: Don’t other photographers do the same?
Me Two: Well I don’t know what other photographers do, but I’ve never heard anyone else (and I know a lot of photographers) talk about photographing their clients in this way. I hear them talking about posing them just right or they need the right location to get it right. I hear photographers talking about how their clients didn’t “do anything” during the session. That’s suggesting it’s up to the subject to get a good picture. Again, my attitude is that it’s not up to the subject. It’s up to me to get a good picture. And then I hear a lot of people that have been photographed by others that tell horror stories about how the photographer got upset or ordered them around. No wonder most people don’t like getting their picture taken with experiences like that. Who would want to go through such nonsense. I want people to come and have a good time. We laugh, we talk, and in the end there are a number of really great images that give viewers a real, true sense of what the subject is like.
Me One: So you don’t tell your clients how to stand or what to do?
Me Two: I do a little bit. But that’s not what’s going to make or break the picture. Their gestures, their expressions–that’s the soul of the picture, so if they aren’t relaxed, that’s not going to shine through.
Me One: Do you like soup?
Me Two: Some kinds of soup. That’s a strange question and seems a little out of place.
Me One: I have ADD.
Me Two: Me too!
Me One: See you at home.
Me Two: Ok. Later.