It’s always good to push yourself. Move creatively into areas you’re unfamiliar with. Try things that are a little risky. Things you may fail at. It seems like every time, just before I make a serious breakthrough, I hesitate, just for a moment to consider whether I’m ready to do something. Maybe it’s just taking a mental deep breath before taking a leap. Maybe it’s fear. But I guess I’ve been standing on the edge before such a leap enough times in my life to know it’s all going to work out. But I have to jump. If I don’t jump, well, nothing’s going to happen.
If you chart my foray into photography it’s quite the meandering path. I guess I was always looking through a viewfinder of one sort or another growing up, but it wasn’t until I got to college that I started taking photography a little more seriously. Working for the school newspaper allowed me a bit of film and darkroom access to learn and make lots of mistakes. I certainly did both.
Then came an eight year time out where I started and established my film editing career. I’ve always felt that my life would be a series of chapters, always concerning something visual or artistic, but definitely not one thing. When I got put on the tedious night shift at the post house I was working out, I felt like I was stagnating creatively and so I picked up my camera again.
It was an interesting time for me because I knew I wanted to make photos, but I wasn’t really sure what kind. I photographed Chicago. I photographed friends. I even spent time at Lincoln Park Zoo photographing the animals there. I looked at a lot of photography books. I paid attention to what moved me. My school was the rolls of film I was running through my camera and big coffee table books that allowed me to study lighting.
One of the things I learned early on was that an important part of my photography would always be shooting people. The big question was what kind of people photography would I do? Fashion, portraiture, news, nudes? My incredibly generous and brave friends helped me negotiate my first steps. I would take portraits of them for family and friends. Some would bring their best or most interesting clothes and we would make fashion photos and still others would, amazingly to me at the time, trust me enough to let me photograph them without any clothes at all.
I even got to do a little traveling and live in the fashion world as part of my film editing. I made a documentary in the 90s about the Elite Modeling Agency’s Look of the Year. It was really my first opportunity to see the fashion industry up close, especially from the photographer/model relationship point of view. I saw ordinary girls transformed into something completely unreal with hair and makeup and clothes.
I had a few very good friends who were into the fashion world as much as I was back then and they would come over one at a time and we would play dress up and make pictures. I think I was really hard on myself and probably going through some other things at the time that wouldn’t fully reveal themselves for a few years. But I never really thought I was very good at fashion. My images never looked like how I imagined I wanted them. Every once in a while I come across a test print or a scan of one of them and I realize that they were actually better than I thought. A little rough around the edges perhaps, but I was shooting without the benefit of proper hair and makeup, not to mention the necessary machine of magazine retouching and other behind the scenes trickery that goes into every single magazine cover.
So I simplified things and began to shoot bodies. No clothes, no hair and makeup, just the very basic beauty that I saw in my subjects. It enabled me to create very personal art because I didn’t have to rely on a team to make the images I was trying to make. Light was my hair and makeup. Composition was the clothes.
It was and is the kind of photography I am most passionate about. I’m clearly not alone. Artists have been inspired by the body ever since they decided to draw on a cave wall or paint on a canvas. I’m not ready to give that up yet, but like any passionate artist, I’m trying new things as well. Sometimes new ideas bring a new perspective to older ideas as well.
I’m beginning a fashion project that perhaps has been rolling around in the back of my head for the last ten years. Even though I gave up on shooting fashion, or thought I gave up on shooting fashion, I find that I continued to pay attention to the fashion world. I think I still find that world more interesting than say, the sports world somehow. Good fashion photography still excites me.
So in a rare departure from my usual work, I’m actually letting a model bring clothes to a shoot – and wear them in front of my lens! It’s been interesting. Challenging. Rewarding. Strange. Beautiful. All those things when you try something new. We’ve been having a good mixture of success and misses. So the cake isn’t quite done yet and I try not to open the stove door too early, so once again, loyal readers, there are no images from the current adventure to post yet. But there will be… in time.
Perhaps I’ll dig up some of the original fashion images from ten years ago and see if I can get permission from my early models to put one or two of them up here to relive my “full of potential” past! We’ll see if they want to relive the good old days or not!
Here’s one of Jill. She’s out in California now I think. Always sends me a birthday card and corrects me when I lose track of how old I am. I was actually younger than I thought one year.
In the meantime I’m going to keep shooting with my new muse and our current fashion adventure. We shot over six hundred images this weekend. We even managed to shoot right through a major sports event that seems to be going on in Chicago this week. I think it’s called the World Series. I’ve caught a few blurbs about it in the local papers. Now I’m going to get back to my copy of Paris Vogue.