“The best camera is the one you have to hand” – Unknown
I made this photograph in April 2011 in the Majella National Park, Italy. My parents have a small house in a quiet village out here, and I try to visit at least once each year. I’m not much of a long distance walker, but not because I don’t enjoy it, or am not able for it. It’s simply the weight of heavy camera equipment which I can’t stand being without in such a beautiful region, makes lengthy hikes quite impractical. Also a compulsion to spend sometimes several hours photographing in one location, means planned routes are frequently cut short.
On this occasion the walk ended on arrival, about 50 metres from where we had parked the car. I noticed a cluster of trees and was taken by the morning light that skimmed across them. My old Rolleiflex loaded up with film, it did not take long to burn through a roll. Because I keep the camera on a tripod when photographing the landscape, I will often leave it in one spot as I walk around nearby to look for interesting angles – as was the case here. I move very slowly and quietly, looking at the quality of light, patterns and shapes in front of me. I’ve heard other photographers describe the process as meditative, which is probably as accurate a description that I can think of. In any case the sound of rustling behind was startling. Tasty on the table but intimidating up close, I turned nervously hoping not to be confronted by Cinghiale (Wild Boar). Instead I saw some far more photogenic Roe Deer approaching. To move toward my proper camera would have been too noisy, with all of the branches underfoot. Instead I reached into my pocket for my iPhone and managed to take three photographs before I was spotted, and the deer were gone.
Like nearly all of my images this was processed in black and white, but instead of the hours normally spent editing, I had this finished within a few minutes using the application Snapseed. It’s like a pared-down Photoshop, but offering much more flexibility than the likes of Instagram provide.
Known as semiotics, signs are visual clues that communicate a meaning beyond the thing they show. The lone tree in a field that is suggestive of isolation, or the faded snapshot of candles on a birthday cake being blown out, to evoke feelings of happiness and perhaps nostalgia.
Some signs are universally recognised, some are culturally specific, whilst others are intensely personal and attached to specific memories. For strangers who have seen this portrait during exhibition, it has captivated and encouraged conversations. For myself, aware of a tragedy for the family that followed its creation, the meaning and relevance has become altogether different.
When making family portraits, and especially photographs of children, I am trying to show universal signs such as innocence, reflection, discovery and vulnerability, but also unique characteristics known only to the family. Be it a telling half smile, the way a young boy covers his face when nervous, or a little girl waiting by the window for Dad to return from work.
Image: Commissioned portrait of Layla, aged 4
Originally published on Family Bhive
Photography is a reductive medium. That is to say, we start with a canvas of infinite possibilities, and extract from that canvas an arrangement of visually pleasing forms and (in the case of portraiture) expressions, at one single moment in time. Although a photograph might be captured within a fraction of a second, it is the years an artist dedicates to the study of light, composition and timing, which will give them the best chance of creating a ‘transcendent’ image.
For me, a portrait becomes remarkable when this vision on the part of the artist, coincides with the revealing of an interesting characteristic shown by the subject. It’s not a direct representation or likeness, like that offered by a passport photograph, but the suggestion of a quality not immediately superficial.
The evocative portrait for me connotes more than it denotes. It suggests more than it shows. This could be described simply as depth, and is why in all likelihood the typical smiling family portrait is to me less interesting. It’s too easy to look over, consume and accept without thought or exploration. It shows a happy family, but quite often suggests little more.
Originally posted on FamilyBhive (29/4/2013)
The portrait of this child was made in Islington some two years ago. It was resoundingly the family favourite, with grandparents, as well as mum and dad, ending up with a framed print.
The best portraits are a reflection of character and personality, revealed in part by the clothes you choose to wear or dress your children in. As a result, I prefer not to give definitive instruction on attire for portrait commissions, but will offer some general advice.
Simpler, solid clothing tends to photograph better than busy designs, which can often dominate and distract from the face. The same can be said for prominent logos and emblems, which are better avoided.
Formal clothing, if worn, tends to work more easily indoors. ‘Smart everyday’ is a more popular choice, because the portraits are supposed to be a reflection of normal life. More relaxed clothing will result in a more relaxed feeling to the photographs. In any case the clothing should suit the environment in which we create your portraits.
It is always advisable to wear trousers instead of shorts, and for women, skirts (if worn) should cover the knees when seated. Men should wear a longer sleeve shirt in preference to a T-shirt. Jeans are perfectly acceptable.
Shoes, whether smart or casual, should always be worn in preference to trainers. For young children this is not so important, but less busy designs and darker footwear is definitely preferable.
As a general rule, shirts and tops should be lighter than trousers, jeans and footwear. This helps draw attention inward and up. For outerwear this advice becomes less practical, but the basic idea remains the same. If there is significant contrast within your wardrobe, lighter tones tend to look better higher up.
There is a common belief that wearing off-white or cream will cause paler skin to look washed out. This is not the case.
Clothing should be ironed and clean. If foundation is worn, please apply lightly and blend in thoroughly over the entire face and neck, down to the neckline of your clothing. Mascara and makeup around the eyes, if worn, should be applied particularly carefully, as your eyes will be very prominent within the photographs. Please get in touch if you would like for me to arrange a professional makeup artist for your sitting.
It is advisable to have everyone in a group photograph wearing clothes of similar tone, so each person is as prominent as the next. The exception to this ‘rule’ is in the case of babies and small children who might be carried. They should wear clothing of similar or lighter tone than the rest of the group, again on the basis that the eye will be drawn to them. Please note: this advice is not a suggestion to wear ‘matching’ outfits. The idea is simply to achieve tonal balance and similar formality between subjects, because we will be photographing in black and white.
If you normally wear glasses, you may want them on for the portraits. Avoiding glare and distortions caused by the glass is very difficult when photographing. If possible, have your optician show you the best way to remove and replace your lenses, or request they lend you a glassless frame, similar to your own.
Your choice of clothing will make all the difference between achieving the finest, or the merely good portrait. I am here for any help and assistance, prior to or during the commission. More often than not, we’ll have the chance to switch between outfits on the day if you would like to explore different options. My family portrait portfolio might give you some ideas on what to wear.