Working with what you’ve got

Part 2: On Process

I hold, quite firmly, that a photograph owes as much to the photographer as it does to the person in the image. On the other hand, while I may joke that I simply “push the button,” I don’t subscribe to the concept of a photographer as a passive observer. That belief, that the interplay between the photographer and subject is the key to making memorable images, very much defines the way I approach a photoshoot.

Whether working in the studio, on location, or in the outdoors, I prefer to turn my collaborators loose after I’ve set the scene; whether that’s through a relatively simple and flexible lighting set-up or having extensively scouted and documented a location prior to a shoot.

Watching someone else explore an environment with which I’m already familiar allows me to see how they think and move. It lets me examine their creative process in motion; to see the gears turn and get inside their head, without making them feel as though I’ve asked them to lie down on the couch while I play amateur psychologist.

I often choose locations that are meaningful to me. The rivers and forests of my childhood are now the settings for many of my photographs. The warehouses and industrial buildings that sat defunct and decrepit when I was young are slowly being rediscovered and repurposed. But I try to employ them before they find new life.

Encouraging my models to freely explore and inhabit environments that hold memories for me–or newfound locales that catch my imagination– serves as a sort of physical metaphor for the process of getting to know them. And knowing the person in front of my camera, even if just a little, is the point. I think the results would be incredibly boring if I couldn’t manage to reveal a little bit of the person before my lens; then all of my images would solely reflect the person behind it. Frankly, I already know him well enough.

This column originally appeared in Alicette Torres’ amazing, but short-lived ClearNude magazine (Winter 2014 issue, pp 16-20).