Get Behind Our Lens!

Photographing a Cake

“Sensitive people faced with the prospect of a camera portrait put on a face they think is one they would like to show the world. …Very often what lies behind the facade is rare and more wonderful than the subject knows or dares to believe.”
These words were spoken by Irving Penn, one of the greatest black and white photographers of the 20th century, and someone I look up to and greatly admire as I work to create my own style and draw out the character and essence of each person who comes into my studio. Since he passed away last month, I wanted to share a few things I have learned from examining Penn’s work.
While I was in London, I had the incredible opportunity to visit the National Portrait Gallery, where some of Penn’s black and white portraits are currently on exhibit. As I walked from room to room, I found myself completely absorbed in each portrait: he had perfectly captured Audrey Hepburn’s chic style, Salvador Dalí’s peculiar expression, Duke Ellington’s  energetic musical personality. Penn is quoted as saying that “photographing a cake can be an art,” and if he considered cake photography to be an art, he certainly utilized this imaginative and insightful philosophy ten fold in each portrait session. Penn’s artistic eye has never been precisely copied, and he has left an indelible mark in the field of fine art photography, particularly through his innovative use of light and image composition. Many of his portraits are of a very minimalistic nature: there are no extra objects visible, save a wall, or a chair – and in some cases there is nothing at all; just the body or the face of his subject. But his images are so expressive, so intense, that he can go without extra props, and simply follow his own style to reach the desired result. Of course, this does not mean that in order to be successful a photographer must go without props – I find that they can enhance an image and paint a wonderful picture, when used correctly – but rather we must always strive to bring out the person beneath ‘the facade’ in creative and meaningful ways.
Penn once explained the first steps of each session he conducted this way: “I invite the subject to the camera. I begin to search for an attitude, and then begin to expose film.” He goes on to explain what happens during the shoot, but I think this first phrase is particularly compelling: it is the same approach I take with my own clients, and it encourages me to know we have this in common. When I look through the lens of my camera, I want to find the character of the person in front of me. As Penn so artfully exemplified through his portraits, no one is the same, or can be photographed the same; there must be a connection and a sense of sharing between the photographer and the subject. The best images come from discovering the true personality (or as Penn says, ‘the attitude’) of each person, and perhaps even showing them something new about themselves in the process.
Irving Penn will be greatly missed in the artistic community, but luckily his work remains. He will continue to be a source of inspiration for me as I bring out the personality and discover the true character of each of my clients.
Take a few minutes to enjoy his work by following the links I’ve chosen (mouse over the link for description), or do your own search – I promise you won’t regret it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s