Portraits, Comfort, Etc.

Curiosity is probably a common trait photographers no matter what the particular genre of subject matter one gravitates towards. I myself have infinite curiosity about the state of humans. This entire group of projects accidentally came about completely out of someone else's curiosity - specifically a person I've worked with dozens of times to make everything from workshop lighting demos to lifestyle pictures to a prop in product illustrations. I'll not go into that story right now but the resulting "why not" pictures really intrigued me and sparked many facets of my own curiosity.

Having worked with countless people in various "portrait like" settings over decades one thing that was very different about these projects and accompanying props was that many collaborators I've worked with indulged their own curiosities on the fly. Almost universally this has been the case no matter if my collaborator has spent a lot of time in front of a camera or almost none. This particular characteristic is far different than typical portrait like circumstances. What's more is the spectrum of people I've worked could be considered extremely similar. In many cases not only similar but the same people.

The above picture is the very first frame I made with Alicia with some extremely heavy props that she just had to play with. Specifically note her expression and gaze looking out the window to camera left.

I made quite a few pictures and variations during the few hours before Alicia, another friend and I decided to go out for dinner. Here's the thing… every few frames Alicia looked out the window with the same apprehension. Of course I asked why. Her answer was that any sort of view that felt "high" gave her a lot of anxiety and she felt very close with the view.

Here's the punchline: After playing with the props for quite a while Alicia decided she wanted to actually be closer to the window. Closer as in standing on the narrow sill in a position where she could not possibly back away on her own. She wanted to be less comfortable.

Suffering from many anxieties myself to the point of panic attacks on occasion I found this surprising in a way. In other ways I identified with it as well. Hard to really explain with words.

About That Comfort Thing

I've never been a subscriber of the oft repeated advice that portrait subjects (hate that word) must be made "comfortable". What does that even mean? It really doesn't tell you much and what if you don't want a comfortable look?? My own personal useless platitude of generalities is that portrait need to engage whoever you are working with in whatever means are required to cause the person on the other end of the camera to "give you something real". Typically that happens in those in-between moments that you must must must be ready for.

In a lot of ways these projects stoked one particular curiosity having made many pictures of people. On the surface of it every situation has been in the opposite direction but doesn't at all produce reactions that coincide.

Yes they are roof tops. We were quite high above most of the city. After a while Alice did want to get down, and quickly but it was far longer than what I expected. She didn't mention it but I imagine part of why she wanted to do this was to anonymously provoke the odd passerby down at street level or maybe in another building from a safe distance while exerting some control in some ways while giving it up in others. Probably a similar reason she wanted to wear that very noticeable heavy collar the entire four day weekend 24x7 no matter where we went.

End Notes

All pictures made with the Fuji XT-1 and 18-55 XF zoom. Processing via Capture One 11 using a preset with rather soft contrast compared to my typical M.O.

I forgot about these pictures made over a long weekend that was far more for catching up and spending time with a few friends until yesterday. Alicia sent me a text wondering if I "still had" all these that we made (as well as others) as she somehow misplaced a few groups of them and wanted to know if I could send them. Of course I did and in the process had some distance and reevaluated them. There are quite a few I really like from the weekend here and there picture making. More later.