Portrait Photography

Once upon a time, long ago, and far away, my mother came to visit me. It was 2002 and I was the photographer for Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff. In 2001 my father had died and even though I had been a serious photographer for a few years, I had never gotten to take any formal portraits of him. He died suddenly of a heart attack and it has always been a source of grief for me knowing that the person who started me on my path as a photographer (I began by using his old Canon AE-1) was the one subject I had never and now could never document. With that in mind I made a point of sitting my mother down to do a formal portrait in my studio. I would not hear any objections because I was determined not to face the same regret twice.

She said yes. I set up the lights, got out my camera, and took 80 photographs of her. In one of them, she dropped all her walls, her guard went down and my mother gifted me with her real smile. I cherish that photograph. It’s her. It so clearly shows her grace and her kindness. In so many of the other photographs I can see the tension in her. She didn’t like being the one photographed. But for this one photograph the tension is gone, her smile is sincere, and she’s looking at me and not the camera.

Less than a year later it was this photograph that we had enlarged to put on display at her funeral.

I learned a lot about photography with the deaths of my parents. About how precious an image can be. How a photograph can capture a fleeting reality and let you hold it close even after the moment is gone. Before this portrait I had never really loved pictures of people. I was drawn to the scenic shots of National Geographic and Arizona Highways. Faces were always just faces of people whose lives did not touch mine. I still love landscape photography and I always will, but over the years I have come to love the unique challenge of portrait photography. It is the job of the photographer to earn trust, to see the authentic and to faithfully represent. Expressions change in a fraction of a second — it is our role to discern which face is the true one.

Photographs are frozen moments. They let you examine more closely the fine details that are often lost as we go through our daily lives. A portrait doesn’t always succeed, but when it does, it says something meaningful, something true, and that truth is a lasting one.

This summer I was asked to do a series of portraits for the Whitefish Theatre Company. I loved working on this project. I got to meet so many wonderful people, but I met them in an extremely fast-paced setting. I’ve forgotten how many people I photographed over the two days, but basically I had about 15 minutes per subject. That’s not a lot of time. Still, I was happy with many of the images and on Saturday, I went to my first event of the season at the O’Shaughnessy Center. Imagine my delight in seeing the portraits I had done were used on the cover of the nightly programs.

I’m not going to include all of the shots from this project but I wanted to share a few of my favorites. I hope you enjoy.

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