The Photographic Subject: Thoughts on the photographer being photographed

“In partnership with my good friend and amazing photographer, Taqueesha, I am offering VIP clients a free fall mini photo session!”

Well this was interesting: Our real estate agent (who sold our house in record time) offers his “favourite clients” a one-time only gift, a free photoshoot. And since our house sold, we are one of his current favourites. What fun, except, hey, I’m the photographer; I am not crazy about being photographed. I should be behind the camera and not in its crosshairs. I am anxious about how people see me; I am uneasy about how they react to my white albino skin and hair; I am suspicious when folks stare at my rapidly moving, squinty eyes which cower from the bright daytime light.

On two historic occasions, people have told me how my eye movement disturbed them. (Get over it friends.) I am also uptight about my broadening belly (dimensions are identical from both front and side views. (No Humpty-Dumpty jokes please). Even in group settings, I am an anxious portrait subject.

During our recent session tensions increased when I was asked to kiss my wife, in public no less, for the paparazzi. (She concurs with this dis-ease by the way.) Not that such a lavish gesture is unpleasant – far from it. It just felt weird – such physical amour was most appropriate on our wedding day but not for our realtor’s client opportunity. Really, it was an autumn Sunday afternoon at the dog park! On this day we celebrated no nuptials, just the purchase of our fourth home together. Nothing terribly romantic about that – just spending huge sums of money on bricks and mortar, gyprock, and pavement, lawyers and bank charges. Plenty of packing up, of throwing stuff out, of repurposing the detritus and fond possessions accumulated over the last six and a half years — all this busy activity accompanied by the constant updating of online profiles and struggling to remember passwords. Ugh!

Back to the portrait shoot. Our lovely photographer is a Canon shooter — as a Fuji man myself, well this will have to do. Professional portraitists remain skeptical of Fuji – their loss. She uses the customary style of distance shooting with her 70-200mm f2.8 telephoto lens. Artistic portrait shooters now tend towards shorter focal lengths and faster primes with a shallower depth of field. My Fuji 35mm f 1.4 prime is a lovely portrait lens but would feel intrusive for some subjects (especially when kissing). The results are just fine (see above). She moves us to three no-fuss-no-muss locations, a strategy that intentionally avoids the distraction of attention-seeking natural beauty. The plan is to make us look beautiful. See what you think.

As for anxious subjects, I had great fun photographing people during our recent trip to Ireland. For the most part, I asked permission, so much so that when I asked a fishmonger to laugh, he replied, “tell me something funny.” I hadn’t expected that, which in itself, was funny. A beautiful lady at a Pottery shop agreed to be photographed, a bit reluctantly, though in the end she agreed, convinced that we would never meet again and that I was not a creep. And yes, I got some lovely shots of Hannah and Kathie, separately and together.

I enjoy creating images of people in places and situations they love, in situations in which they prefer to be seen. In some cultures however, people are reluctant to be photographed. One must be very, very careful at any time with children – permission is required from parents and guardians. Indigenous peoples often tell me that in the snapping of a photograph something is taken from them — duly noted; approach and intrude with caution. In the words of an unknown photo artist: “You don’t take a photograph. You ask quietly to borrow it.”

It was my pleasure recently to assemble an exhibition of twelve local Kamloops residents for a project titled Kamloops is People. Even here, some folks declined for various reasons, but most agreed. I asked each person to comment on how they connected with other residents, noting that as I had connected them photographically with each other. I met them through church, dogs, photography, politics, activism, and online. I wanted to learn how they connected with other residents as I assembled portraits shot in recent months. I hope to repeat this process in other places including the South Okanagan to which Kathie and I have now relocated.

I love people; I love portraiture. I admire the great portraitists — Karsh, Cartier Bresson, Liebowitz — each with their own particular ability to portray the wonder that is life itself. We have some fine portrait photographers in the Kamloops Photo Arts Club. Some create their work in light-equipped studios; others stroll the streets or take to the  hills and rivers.

For portraitists, people are the focus; the photographer manages the focus, and the gallery manager creates a space where the viewers can focus on the work created. May this process, along with the photographs, never fade away.

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