Not A PortraitFriday, November 12, 2010
|Yuliya in My Living Room|
In 1975 Rosemary, our two daughters and I arrived in Vancouver from Mexico City. My goal was to become a photographer. I must admit that I was completely ignorant on the diverse areas of photography that were around at the time. In Mexico City my experience had been limited to taking b+w portraits of wealthy Mexican families or street scenes around Mexico City and surrounding small towns. I had no idea about magazine photography, commercial photography, aerial photography, art photography, annual report photography and of course I was much too youngish and naïve to even know of the existence of pornographic photography.
It took about two years before I started as a magazine photographer. It began with a recommendation to see Gabriel Levy who at the time was the fashion editor of Vancouver Magazine. I had a desire (misguided, perhaps) of wanting to photograph young women with little on) of wanting to be a fashion photographer. Gabriel Levy looked at my photographs (and surely did me one of the best favours I ever received), and said, “You are an excellent portrait photographer but you will never be a fashion photographer. Let me give you my card and go and see Rick Staehling (art director) and Mac Parry (editor) at Vancouver Magazine. The rest is my history as a photographer in Vancouver care of the impulse I received from both Staehling and Parry with that gentle push by Levy to get out of the way of all those fashion photographers that came and went. There were so many of them.
Being a good portrait photographer in the late 70s had one big benefit. It meant I got lots of work from magazines. Every photographer around wanted to be another Anselm Adams and most did not know how to approach the human being. But being a good portrait photographer had a negative feature, I soon found out. I could make real people look like real people and I could make celebrities look good. When I went to see the high budget advertising agencies I did not comprehend until much later why I was so often rejected. They were afraid of the fact that I could make real people look real. They didn't want people that looked like individuals. They wanted people that were everyman and everywoman. These agencies tried to make people look as innocuous as they could. They wanted plain pictures that were accompanied by catchy writing. My portraits, one account executive told me, “Are too realistic, too scary.”
|Edward Hopper, New York Interior|
It was only in the last 18 years that my ability to make real people look real has paid off in the field of portraits of politicians for city, provincial and federal campaigns.
Today I saw a b+w version of a famous Edward Hopper painting, New York Interior, 1921 in my New York Times. I have always been attracted to the paintings of Hopper. In this lonely age of the 21st century it seems to me that his paintings resonate even more. I looked at it and I immediately realized that I have always avoided this kind of take. I insist, so often in getting eye contact. My photographs are always portraits. But this painting has such charm and I can imagine so much about what surely must be a young ballerina-to-be getting ready for her class. While I have not taken many of these I now have a new resolve to shoot many pictures of this sort. I have two available granddaughters. I shall have to look at what they do and start experimenting.
What excitement! No more portraits, not fashion, Gabriel Levy, but not portraits either!