As professional Photographers we are always being challenged by our photo shoots. We have to take an inanimate and unemotional object (like a camera and a lens) and use those to try and create a photo that will stir emotion into the subject or make those that view the photo feel an emotion.
Over the years I’ve had to take that unemotional equipment and make Brides & Grooms appear loving to each other, when they were really very uncomfortable next to each other. I’ve had to take awkward musicians and help them to look cool in front of my camera and I’ve had to take beginning models and actors and teach them how to project their personality into their photos. I feel that it’s my job to find that one thing, that makes someone different, and to capture it on film for them.
I’ve had several people ask me this year (this means you Laura!) what was it (or who was it) that inspired me to become a Photographer. When I was growing up, we didn’t have the Internet and we didn’t have access to the depth of information that people have today. Back then, there really wasn’t any one person who influenced me. My father took up Photography as a hobby and he literally owned everything that Nikon made. He was excellent at shooting inanimate objects and took wonderful photos of all the countries he and my Mom visited, in their travels around the world. I found, that when I picked up that same camera, and directed it towards my friends, I caught something in them – a fleeting moment, a captured glimmer in their eye, and the end result was an awesome photograph. My father noticed this skill of mine right away and he asked me to teach him “how” to shoot people. It frustrated him that he couldn’t capture the same things that I did, when he photographed people, but back then I really didn’t know how to explain it to him, because I didn’t understand it myself. I just somehow “knew” how to do it. My inspiration was really pretty simple…I liked taking photos of beautiful people.
There are two things that I remember from back then…I remember seeing the movie The Eyes of Laura Mars and I was blown away by the visuals. Faye Dunaway played Laura Mars, who was a photographer, and she shot high fashion models on sets that had burning cars in the background. I was transfixed by it all. That was what I wanted to do! To be around that kind of energy and excitement and capture the kind of images that no one else was.
Then I read a statement somewhere that seemed to explain what it was that I was actually already capturing in my photos. I think I read this in a Photography Magazine or a book, and I wish I knew who said it, so I could give them proper credit. What I read was something to the effect that: “You almost have to want to make love to your subject in order to take a good photo of them.”
Obviously you can’t take that statement literally, since I have photographed hundreds of women and men, over the years, and I have felt no compulsion to take any of them on as my lovers!
But that feeling is there subconsciously, each and every time I pick up a camera. I’m watching through my viewfinder for that one glance, that one glimmer in their eyes and if I click the shutter fast enough, I have caught it – a moment frozen in time. Back when I shot film I would always know, the moment I clicked that shutter, that the one image I had just captured would be the “best” image out of the bunch. It was just a feeling that hit me in that 60th of a second it took for the camera shutter to open and close. I just “saw” that photo the moment it was captured. I was so dead on with my feelings that nine times out of ten I was correct in knowing which image would be the best.
I want to point out how hard my job is now, when I have to go back and reshoot people who I had already taken awesome photos of, in the past.
For example – Last year I found six rolls of film that I had shot of my ex-boyfriend, Randy Gun. Randy was astounded when I showed them to him because he didn’t remember seeing the images back then (he did see them, but he just doesn’t remember.) He was happy when I sent him scans of the first three images that I found. He then became speechless the weekend I put all of the images online in a Gallery for him to see. After he had looked through all of them, he told me that he had never looked as good as he did in my photos (yes he did, he was just showing some humility.) He said I must have “beheld him” and he thanked me for taking those photos that made him look so good. I told him that I hadn’t done anything special…I had just taken photos of him and his band while they were playing a dive bar in Boston. I just happened to get a lot of good shots out of that one night because I was interested in my subject.
Seeing dozens or hundreds of images at a time, is nothing new to me. I sort through hundreds of photos just to choose one good one. I really can’t imagine what it must be like, to be the person on the receiving end of my photos! It must be overwhelming to see so many good photos of yourself, from one source, taken at one time.
When I look back on these old photos that I took of Randy Gun, I can see how the statement I referred to above, was true in a sense. When I shot the photos, I had only just met Randy, so I certainly wasn’t consciously thinking about wanting to make love to him. Yet, the images that I took of him that night were powerful and emotional ones that still hold their own today. When I managed to catch a shot of Randy looking at me, through my camera lens, there was an emotion captured there from him, that was being directed at me. It makes me think that those images somehow told the story of what was to transpire between us later. It was almost like the camera knew our story before we even did.
Which brings me back to present day. How do you take photos of someone now, who you had already taken great photos of 32 years ago? That is a big challenge since the times have changed, the people have changed, the emotions have changed, etc. When I started helping Randy build a website last year, my images from 32 years ago were the foundation that his website was built on. We really didn’t need any other photos…except for the fact that it was 32 years later and he didn’t look anything like those images anymore. We needed new photos of him, ones that told a different “story” than those that I had taken of that 25-year-old guitar player, 32 years ago.
Therein lied my challenge. How do I trump myself? This was not just an “easy to do” photo shoot with a cute young subject. On top of being older and heavier and looking nothing like he did in the past, Randy also added the burden of trying to limit the time and place I would be “allowed” to take this updated photo of him.
For a couple of months we argued over the fact that we needed to do this updated photo shoot. At first Randy refused to do the shoot, then he made up a million different excuses on why he couldn’t come meet up with me, for a free photo session, while I was in New York. I begged him to listen to me and let me do what I needed to do, because this was all about him anyway. I needed time to shoot, and I needed different environmental backgrounds to choose from. We had the whole city of New York to work with and a week to do it in.
The end result? Randy limited my time by “allowing” me one half hour to do the shoot and we were going to have to do this half hour shoot late at night, in a darkened bar, where I would also be struggling with lighting. Did I happen to mention the fact that up to this point we hadn’t even seen each other in person for at least 30 years? All of this work and planning had been going on through phone calls, email, and texting. I even suggested meeting up for 15 minutes, the day before the shoot, so we could get over the weirdness of just seeing each other in person again, after so many years. He didn’t have that 15 minutes to spare me either.
So, Randy showed up for the shoot, it was dark, he was uncomfortable, and then he told me about how he wanted to be photographed, in a particular pose that had worked for him in the past, but it was a pose which looked utterly ridiculous to do now, at his current age.
I had less than 10 minutes to shoot an uncooperative subject in a hotel that was trying to prevent me from shooting in the first place. Because I know what I am doing, I managed to pull this shot out of that 10 minute time frame.
Photo of Randy Gun / Randy Burns – May 2011 – Empire Hotel Mezzanine, New York City
I am very happy with the result and proud of the work that I did in that limited amount of time.
Are you wondering what Randy’s reaction was to the photo? He didn’t like it. He actually liked an image that I grudgingly took of him in that old favorite pose of his, just to get him to shut up about it.
This photo makes Randy look better than he actually does in person. The photo had to be touched up a lot, to make it look this way, which was another thing that Randy didn’t appreciate being done for him, (for free).
So there you have it. I certainly didn’t want to make love to Randy now (figuratively or literally) in order to get a good photo of him. With my background and skills I was able to produce an excellent photo from an unfortunate circumstance.
Another hazard of our trade is ending up with unappreciative clients. No matter how good of an image we have captured of them, there are those, like Randy, who don’t appreciate what you have done for them, be it from 32 years ago or this past year.
I guess I could pass on a quote to Randy, that my photo friend Clay Blackmore uses: “You might hate your photos now but I guarantee that you will love them 30 years from now!”
In the end I feel confident in my abilities and I know for sure that no one took better photos of Randy, than I did, 32 years ago.
As far as the image above, that I took of him last year – I did manage to capture the moment and the photo does tell a “new story” about Randy Gun. Also, it is probably the last good image that anyone will ever take of him.
Sad, but true.
Read more of my stories about Randy Gun