I read today there will be an Annie Leibovitz exhibition starting next week at West Palm Beach, FL (details below) and it got me thinking about portrait photography. Leibovitz is a master in this field of course with a trail of dream jobs and celebrity/VIP subjects behind her long, long, successful career and I’m a bit of a groupie so she has my vote but I admit her portraits can unsettle me.
She is a brilliant advertising photographer able to create a high level of astonishing contrivance and is well suited to photographing celebrities whose images are brands for sale but I think that’s my undoing when looking at her pictures, there is a lack of spontaneity and its predictable. This raises the question of course, just how ruddy hard is it to come up with something new every time you shoot a portrait and keep it fresh.
Her images are so well crafted. Every detail is positioned, lit, dressed, coiffed to just the right angle and depth of field. She can still life. It’s as I imagine a painter from a renaissance royal court of centuries past might have spent days, even weeks painting a part of a scene, then waiting for the paint to dry before moving on to the next bit. I guess that’s why they, and she, are considered masters.
Different story working as a photo journalist where I was accustomed to running from one job to the next, keeping to a tight deadline, marching into a shoot with a gist of the story, organising everyone into place, try to tell that story in some way through the photo, console anyone who dreaded/feared/hated having their photo taken – which happened a lot, take the shots, make sure everyone’s eyes are open in at least one of them, before heading off quick smart to the next job. Learning to work hard and fast, but not with a lot of prep time. Thinking on my feet reacting to the moment rather than creating the moment through planning.
Having done two family portraits in the last few weeks, I put into practice all that I know but of course have come away to look at the results and immediately see where I could have done better.
However I have happy clients and that has got to be a good thing!!!
I will definitely be checking into the Leibovitz exhibition for more pointers. It runs between January 17 to June 9 at the Norton Museum of Art, 1451 S. Olive Ave in West Palm Beach, Florida. http://www.norton.org for times, etc. Maybe I’ll see you there. 🙂