On portrait photography

Discussion in 'Ethics and Philosophy' started by Cheryl Jacobs, May 28, 2004.

  1. Cheryl Jacobs

    Cheryl Jacobs Member

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    I just finished up a session with a mom and her two daughters, ages eleven and eight. The mother, from Romania, still very young and stunningly beautiful. Her daughters are artistic and obviously intelligent. It's a wonderful little family, as close as a family can be.

    The older daughter, Alexandra, is going into seventh grade, and is experiencing the normal battle with self-esteem. All very typical, except that beautiful Alexandra has a large scar on her face, running between her nose and her lip, and it makes it that much more difficult for her. I got the impression that she is used to people asking her about her scar, and was waiting for me to comment on it.

    Really, I didn't notice the scar right away, because her eyes and her demeanor are so stunning. But it is there, and it's part of her. She was a bit aloof, ducking her chin when we first started the session, trying to hide a bit behind her younger sister.

    So, I put the camera down and we just talked for a few minutes, about school, hobbies, whatever. Nothing. Her sister got bored, and so I gave her a five minute break. After a few minutes, I told Alexandra (truthfully) that she had such a beautifully expressive face that I'd really like to photograph her alone for a few minutes if she didn't mind. She was taken completely off guard, and then agreed. So we did.

    Taking those few minutes made all the difference. Her confidence came out. She lifted her chin and gazed directly into the camera, and challenged it. She had an almost defiant beauty. We talked all the while, and she told me how most photographers have been in such a hurry to get through, and it made her feel ugly and like she wasn't special. I saw her mom tear up a little out of the corner of my eye, and she quickly slipped into the house as we finished up. In talking with her mother afterward, I found myself getting a bit emotional as she told me how much it meant to her to see her daughter "come out" with me.

    It's not about having a productive session, or a smooth one. It's not a beautiful location, or even the perfect lighting/pose/background.

    In fact, it's not about photography at all.

    It's about taking the time to help people feel their own beauty and uniqueness. It's about taking the time to find that connection and exchanging little pieces of yourselves. It's about..... taking the time.

    And I'll say it again -- it's not about what they look like, but who they are.

    I have no images to post yet, and they almost don't matter.

    Anyway, enough from me. Just consider it affirmation for those of us who sometimes wonder if we take too long, shoot too much, or get too personal. We don't. Keep it up.

    - CJ
     
  2. Ed Sukach

    Ed Sukach Member

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    I started out to "clip" this for the sake of brevity. This is as far as I could go.

    BRAVA!!! A beautiful insight into just what makes you such a rare and wonderful photographer.

    And ... THANK you!!
     
  3. blansky

    blansky Subscriber

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    Sounds like a great shoot.

    I agree completely. That's what differentiates us from the flog em in flog em out type places. Virtually every sitting I do, and I'm sure it's the same with you, people always say that it was a lot of fun and they felt very relaxed. I don't even introduce the camera into the mix for maybe ten or fifteen minutes.

    After a sitting I'm stoned for about an hour. I truly get high on the adrenelin and satisfaction of the time I spend with people in a very intimate manner. There ain't nothin like it. ( well maybe hockey, but here nobody gets hurt)

    I don't do scenics for that very reason. It's the people I get high from.


    Michael McBlane
     
  4. Jorge

    Jorge Inactive

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    Good for you Cheryl. Your post reminds me a lot of my father's behavior with his patients. He was a brilliant diagnostician (chief of cardiology for DeBakey when he was in New York) yet he spent countless hours listening to his patients, many a times about things totally unrelated to their disease.

    It is this attitude as well as your talent that make you success in portrait photography.
    You can never pay enough attention to your subjects, and when you do, you are rewarded as is the case with this session. Cant wait to see the pictures, I am sure they will have your usual high standard.
     
  5. John_Brewer

    John_Brewer Member

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    Thanks for sharing that wonderful story Cheryl. Your compassion, love and respect for other people just shines through your photographic work :smile:
     
  6. noblebeast

    noblebeast Member

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    Thanks Cheryl!
    Not only does your post speak to your great skills, not only as a photographer but as a human, it also demonstrates why you are destined for success.

    It also helps me to articulate why I am finding myself strongly drawn to portraiture and away from landscapes, and pretty much any other photographic idiom. The anecdotes that you and Michael McBlane share strum a major chord in me, and inform me about how much "music" I have within that needs to be heard - if only by me. All of us need to make sure that we do not die with our music still in us (see Tolstoy's "Death of Ivan Iilych" for a literary exploration of the theme)

    You and Alexandra got to share something really special, and the ripples have touched APUG with a valuable lesson. Once again, thanks for sharing!
    Joe
     
  7. JohnArs

    JohnArs Subscriber

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    Great Cheril

    I know you are really "there" when you take pictures of a person!
    That makes your portraits so damn good!
    Good light and nice shadows to you!
     
  8. Jorge Oliveira

    Jorge Oliveira Member

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    Cheryl

    Your posting makes it clear that you are a photographer - not someone that knows how to handle a camera.

    Jorge O
     
  9. Cheryl Jacobs

    Cheryl Jacobs Member

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    Thank you for the nice comments. This 'job' really is such a privilege.

    Here is Alexandra, although I have to apologize for the scan quality. this was scanned from a very bright and contrasty proof.

    [​IMG]
     
  10. Cheryl Jacobs

    Cheryl Jacobs Member

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    Alexandra is on the far right. She is amazing.

    Apologies again for the terribly blown highlights. As the proof was printed that way, I can't do anything to fix the scan.

    - CJ
     

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  11. mark

    mark Member

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    Very nice. I teach 6th grade. You have done a nice job capturing the inbetween girlhood and womanhood stage. This age was described in one thing I read as lolita one minute, baby five minutes later, and all ages inbetween are seen in the minutes between.

    Just a question on the shot. Is the black dirt looking stuff, between her feet, in the original?

    A beautiful portrait of a striking little girl.
     
  12. Cheryl Jacobs

    Cheryl Jacobs Member

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    Thanks, Mark. Yes, dirt, and yep, on the original. On the larger print, you can see that the entire cushion is dirty. Just the way I like it. :smile:
     
  13. David R Munson

    David R Munson Member

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    Fantastic. You are officially among my role models now. There's much I can (and do) learn from you. You ever think of writing a column for a magazine or anything like that?
     
  14. jnanian

    jnanian Advertiser Advertiser

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    wow cheryl:

    you really know how to capture their soul :smile:

    great work!

    - john
     
  15. Christian Olivet

    Christian Olivet Member

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    Thanks Cheryl for sharing your awareness. Your post brought me some tears. A mixture of sadness with a deep inner joy. I don't know how to explain it. I feel identified with both the young girl and her fears, and you with your awareness that it is not our bodies or our personalities but something deeper and far more interesting and lasting than that. Our beings, perfect with their imperfections. So unique rich and valuable. I work every day on letting go of the restrictions of my personality so I can experience myself in a much deeper and meaningful way. I feel Alexandra will find her way too.
    Thanks again for showing us.

    PS: I wonder how she would feel if she read all this?
     
  16. jovo

    jovo Membership Council Council

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    well, if you weren't a photographer of children you'd make a helluva teacher of them. when the best teachers are asked what they teach, the answer is never math, science or music, it's, "kids!" moving story (with, yes i confess, some tears...) and a marvelous lesson.
     
  17. John McCallum

    John McCallum Member

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    Wonderful inspiring story Cheryl.
     
  18. KenM

    KenM Member

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    I've always marvelled at 'people' photographs. No, perhaps that's not it. I think what really impresses me are the people that understand how to photograph people.

    To have the ability to get people to open up is a precious gift, one that I don't think I have. 'Course, I've never really tried, but I don't think I have the personality that would allow me to get into the mode required to photograph people.

    I think that's why I photograph the exclusion of people. As long as their ain't no people, it's a scene to be photographed :rolleyes:

    I know I've mentioned his name before (and more than once), but Ray McSavaney makes some wonderful photographs of people from the LA area. Simply stunning stuff. Seeing his photographs, and seeing the work that Cheryl does is almost enough to get me to setup my tripod and 4x5 downtown...

    I just may give it a try.
     
  19. Ka

    Ka Member

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    Cheryl, what you wrote is exactly true.

    "...It's about taking the time to help people feel their own beauty and uniqueness. It's about taking the time to find that connection and exchanging little pieces of yourselves. It's about..... taking the time.

    And I'll say it again -- it's not about what they look like, but who they are..."

    Your work is an inspiration. I wish we could have you on our Heart Gallery Project.
     
  20. Cheryl Jacobs

    Cheryl Jacobs Member

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    Thank you, all, for commenting. I always love what I do, but there are moments every so often that I feel were sent just to make me appreciate the opportunities that come with this "job". I'm glad you don't mind my sharing them.

    And, Dave, thanks for that compliment. I'm not sure I'm qualified, but you made me smile. :smile: