The Evolution of Process

Many years ago I saw a dance company from Paris do a show at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. It’s begun in a state of stasis to become primordial ooze and led to the evolution of man. In about ninety minutes they had summed up our existence in a flurry of movement, sound, and brilliance of color and light. With the advent this week of meeting a bunch of new models I thought I would talk about my own process of evolution toward the shoot.

Photography for me begins as an organic process. It always begins with the interview, getting to know the subject. I am really curious as to who this person is, what motivates them, what excites them and sparks their passion and see where our worlds intersect. As we talk I get clues and a glimpse of how the lighting process will work for this individual. It’s all reactive and based on impression and interaction. I have always believed that photography is collaboration. I try to explore what is at the core of this person that has brought them to this moment in their life. One of my greatest assets as a photographer is that I am curious about people and how they reveal themselves. I am honest, up front, and frank about who I am and where I have been. I listen well to what they are trying to say and by what they actually are saying about themselves. It’s almost like an instant bond is established based on mutual respect and trust. The connection has got to be genuine on both sides of the process. Once I feel we have established this I am ready to begin to work.

First and foremost I find music that makes them comfortable and allow them to find a position were they are natural and their organic selves can emerge. Style of the photo is then dictated by how they settle into the environment. I often have an idea of where I want to go with the lighting and will show them samples of the feeling I am going for. But I rarely ever follow what I had in my head; it’s merely a jumping off point. I begin with a process of adjusting and testing the lighting to see how it affects them, how it reacts to their skin, how they move, and how they present themselves. I give very little direction because I think it distracts and pushes them away from their natural self. If you let people go they will eventually reveal themselves and let you in their world. I do sometimes suggest a tilt, tick, or nod to bring out what is already naturally there. It’s the simplest process in the world. I typically don’t show people what I am shooting and working on. I have set my studio up with a big screen monitor and can tether the camera in it for instant results, but I began to realize people could see the results. They were more inclined to effect were the shoot would go and it would lose all sense of the organic nature. This process evolves, morphs, and changes through out the shoot. I react to what I see and adjust accordingly. Soon the subject and I become in sync with each other and then it all clicks; it then becomes a dance with them to get them to open up and it’s over before we know it. I believe in exhausting all possibilities in a shoot within the current parameters, movement, clothing, lighting, and style. The camera is rarely the issue of the shoot; it’s always secondary, just the instrument used to record it.

I used to study the rules and laws of lighting and ratios and set up but could never quite work to a formula. I go on gut impulse and react to what I see as it evolves. My strobe pack is able to adjust in tenths of an f-stop so I can dial it exactly where I want it. Back in the film days I always had to rely on metering everything and pre-visualizing the final image and place the tones where I wanted them to fall, but with the modern digital equipment you can instantly see the results and fine tune it as you go. It still becomes a matter of instinct and trusting the courage of your convictions because it becomes a distraction if you are constantly checking your progress. After all it’s not about me, it about the experience of the moment and recording what has come out of that moment. The end results will remain constant and will be always be present but the process is fleeting.

There now it’s taken me as much time to write about this process of evolution; as the process itself takes actually do, and the French to dance it.

One thought on “The Evolution of Process

  1. Dave C

    >You clearly nailed the process Terry and I cannot wait for the opportunity to continue our collaboration and uncovering of my identity. Clearly, the work you do is cathartic for me and I envy those models just entering into the process. Thanks for allowing us to live shared histories or parallel lived histories through your work here in the blog.

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