A Dance of Intimacy
February 5, 2017
For me, a photo session with a woman is like a dance of intimacy.
No, I am not being literal or implying anything inappropriate. It’s nothing to do with the physical side, nor the amount of clothes worn or discarded during the session. Rather I am talking about something that can be more akin to a spiritual experience, where photos flow out of a mutual connection, however momentary.
Recently I’ve been reviewing past creative portrait shoots. Leaving aside technical differences, I can see that some have an atmosphere that continues to grab me, while others leave me cold. They may have beautiful imagery, but they just don’t connect the same way.
The factor that makes the difference? How well we connected. How much the barriers that we all have to survive in a populated world were dropped in the session and the real person showed up. Not how stunning the model was, nor the setting, nor my technical prowess that day.
Why my analogy of a “dance of intimacy”?
For me, a creative portrait session is a performance in some ways. A short engagement where the principal actors are the model and the photographer, no matter how many support people are present. In the exercise, the two have to perform to produce art. The performance is, in many ways, a dance where there are set roles, the photographer leads, the two work together as one, often with movement, to make pleasing shapes and evoke emotion. The objective of the dance, for me, is to bring to the surface what normally lies hidden from sight; to strip off the outside layers and reveal the essential person inside, without guilt or shame. And to achieve that requires true intimacy between the players.
What ingredients are needed for a satisfying dance of intimacy?
First – Give it Time.
It’s possible to take nice photos in a short session. Many do just that. But I think it likely that the images created are just that – “nice”. They show the outside shell of the person. Attractive. But just a shell.
My session typically take 2 – 3 hours. Even if I know the person, even if we’ve met before, the first 30-45 minutes are usually stiff. The shell is in place. Then, if it goes well, if you can forge a connection, it is like a switch turns on. The model forgets to artificially and self consciously “pose”, and the real person begins to emerge. Sometimes you only get a glimpse of the person, a monochromatic version of their true self. Others, eventually the barriers drop and playtime begins. And that is when the magic can happen and images that make your soul sing can be created. Seeing this happen frees my creativity to go beyond the trite and ordinary and create imagery that will last.
Second – Get over the Technology