Last month, Kevin Wynn spoke to the Ojai Photography Club about his approach to portraiture. He listed light, angle, focal length, and connection/communication as the factors he considers when creating his images, and I find his images singularly powerful.
I’ve been thinking about Kevin’s words and images a lot, but when I shot this a couple of weeks ago it reminded me that however important the other factors are at any given time, connection can trump them all.
I knew Sheri Vogan in high school, and I was madly in love with her, but don’t tell her that, because I sure never did. Even though we had our own respective girl- and boy-friends in high school, we just had a buoyant chemistry and joyousness in one another’s company.
We even have a weird photographic past. A photo studio solicited on campus for models for an Indian Motorcycle advertising campaign (in about 1974 or 1975). They held auditions for two days, and dozens of student couples tried out for the gig. As the photographer came into the activities office to sign out before leaving campus, he found Sheri and I sharing the Activities’ Director’s chair – competitively, and bantering like Beatrice and Benedict. He offered us the gig on the spot. And we spent an afternoon doing a terrible job modeling for the photo shoot, but it meant a lot to me to have that special time with Sheri.
Anyway, about twenty-five or thirty years later… Sheri came to Ojai for a spa weekend, looked me up, and we met for lunch. And we talked for hours. Perhaps you are lucky enough to have a friend like this, someone you can see after years apart, and it’s as if you pick up the conversation mid-sentence. Another two years passed, and Sheri visited Ojai again. We met for dinner, we talked for hours, and I snapped the picture above.
I was out and about in deprivation mode: one lens, one body, black and white. We were just chatting away in her hotel room after dinner and a bottle (or so) of wine, and mid-conversation I just picked up the camera and started firing away. Now, a lot of people I know – people I’ve known longer than I’ve known Sheri – would have flinched or resisted somehow. We just kept chatting while I was taking pictures. That’s how comfortable we are together.
Sheri and I are both happily married, if not to each other, so there was no funny business. But the photo both affirms and questions Kevin’s hierarchy for portraiture. The side lighting, provided by a table lamp, is evocative. The angle, slightly below as I melted in my drunken comfort into a chair in front of the fireplace, is just askew enough to be noticed. The focal length and distance to subject isolate her Mona Lisa smile pretty well, yes? But that Mona Lisa Smile – that’s what makes this a special picture to me. That’s the smile of a woman who trusts the man who is taking her picture. And trust is the greatest connection of all. Lighting, Angle, Focal Length, and Connection all matter, but without Connection you might get a picture and miss the photograph altogether.