We don’t call them shoots here. We don’t shoot people; it’s a love affair.
Irving Penn was a genius. He was a master of his craft and I honestly can’t imagine there will ever be a photographer that comes close to his contribution to photography and his talent. I feel that in light of the prevalence of digital photography and the fact that so many concepts, ideas and photographic styles have all already been created and digested into popular culture we may not witness such ground breaking originality any more. In Chris Wiley’s 2011 article ‘Depth of Focus’ featured in Frieze Magazine he discusses the impact of such massive overload of digital photography in our lives. He writes ‘As a result, the possibility of making a photograph that can stake a claim to originality or affect has been radically called into question. Ironically the moment of greatest photographic plenitude has pushed photography to the point of exhaustion’. Irving Penn was an absolute master of three distinct and significant photographic disciplines; still life, fashion and portraiture. He led the way in each area and I can imagine just ignored anyone that pushed him to focus on just one photographic discipline. Pretty much every still life we ever look at is a direct influence of his work and vision. I remember visiting a massive retrospective of his work at the National Portrait Gallery and being so moved and astonished that one single person can be so talented and create so much incredible work. As part of my photographic collection I owned one of Irving Penn’s still life images. I now regret selling it and long to have it back in my home.
In the quote above he declares it is a love affair with people. When you look at Irving Penn’s portraits you cant help sensing that he really respected and was interested in his subjects. His ability to reveal something about each sitter, to pose them as he did and shoot such intimate portraits he must have immersed himself in the moment and truly focused all his attention on the subject. A complete singular focus on that person and that session. I feel that I have always been fascinated by and interested in people. If you want to photograph life and people successfully you really must be interested in them. I feel much of my photography is an on going love affair with people. Last week I was in Bangkok shooting street photography and as I wandered the hot and hectic streets I would encounter interesting people and often chat to them. It was such a pleasure to wake up in such an exciting city and simply wander around shooting whatever took my fancy. Complete creative freedom. As I talked to strangers I was always planning in my mind how I would photograph them. How did their behaviour and mannerisms influence my imaginary shoot? Did they reveal anything in the way they moved, spoke and gestured that may influence my angle, pose and approach. I studied them and listened to them and was mentally shooting their portrait and executing the shot. On one occasion I actually did take the persons portrait. A beautiful young girl sat with her boyfriend across me in a restaurant had my mind racing as to the possibilities. I may write a blog about the little fashion shoot that proceeded that encounter but for now here is a shot from the impromptu session.
But for sure I am always curious about people. I love to sit and watch life go by and want to know everything about someone that catches my eye. I want to learn about them and then see how this influences my portrait. It may not be something factual about them but simply the way they laugh, move or gesture. I look at so many wonderful fashion images and am amazed at how the photographer can capture a fleeting moment and create a mood and sense of someone. I look at some images and am in awe of how the photographer has conveyed such a powerful emotion and singular moment. I feel that they, like me, must simply watch people in real life and then store in their mind the countless little real life moments they witness and then recreate that later in a fashion shoot. As I write this is am thinking of Steven Meisel who is a master of this and has countless images that in that fleeting moment convey so much emotion and character as well as making the clothes look awesome and desirable.
This blog is about the last shoot undertaken for Ralph Lauren. This was a Christmas event at the two West End stores where guests were treated to various festive treats. My job was to capture the goings on and the general festive mood of the day. This was certainly a shoot I could enjoy and excel at. To wander between the two beautiful stores, people watch, connect and try to capture their festive joy and happiness. Some of the people I chatted to and got to know a little and then sometimes it was purely a candid shot. But for sure I feel that my love of people and general curiosity fuels this and contributes to the results. If I really were not interested in people this would be an absolute chore. London and Londoners looked magnificent!