|Liv Ullmann - June 1990|
In my Gaston Bachelard type of daydreaming and thinking that Joan Didion did write:
I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear. – Why I Write (essay originally published in the New York Times Book Review in 1976)
my thoughts took me to this realization that perhaps over 80% of the people that I have known or know I have photographed.
As a child I never photographed my father but when I returned to Buenos Aires in 1966 I photographed him three times. I have the negatives. Strangely of our conversations I remember nothing. What kind of block could this have been?
The average person who is not a portrait photographer, when
they remember somebody, is it about when they first met or the last time they
saw each other? Or a combination of both?
In my case I am trying to sort out that, with while combining the person facing my camera. I only met Liv Ullman once so I remember her about our short conversation and the picture I took of her. My other “memories” of her would be about my reading her lovely autobiography and of her films.
In the case of my family and particularly my daughters, granddaughters and my Rosemary, my memories are compound based on photographs and the actual fact of living with them.
For many years my idea of what portraiture is has been that of the person facing my camera, known or unknown. That person wants to project to me what they think they are in relation to themselves and to the me, the photographer facing them. In my case my intent is to capture (in the old sense of the word before that word was taken over by the digital photographers) the essence of who they are that I am able to observe. Or that I draw out through conversation and combined with my research of them if I did not know them until the moment of taking their portrait.
I once played with the idea of placing a camera and one light in front of a person and instructing the person not to move. I would then bring in to the room, one at a time, father, mother, siblings, lover, husband, wife, the mailman, etc. My feeling is that we would be able to guess the photographer by the subject’s expression.
All these photographs would be facets of the person. If I were to feed a computer with all those photographs would the computer then spit out an image that represented the person in their entirety?
While all the above is simple conjecture I cannot get over the fact that so many of the people I have known (and photographed) are now dead because I am now 80.
Is a portrait photographer in some way unique in this realization?