The web site Jezebel has an article about a cosmetic ad that exclaims that it is the first unretouched make up ad. We are so used to every advertising photo being photoshopped that to stand out an ad has to tout its lack of retouching. Note the model’s imperfect arm contrasted with her professionally made up face.
If I had a dollar for every time someone said to me, “I hate having my picture taken,” I could take an extra week’s vacation each year. As a portrait photographer I strive to calm subjects’ anxieties. Nervousness about having one’s photograph taken is not a new worry.
I was paging through a book of Ogden Nash poems recently and ran across this poem written in the 1930s.
Some hate broccoli, some hate bacon,
I hate having my picture taken.
How can your family claim to love you
And then demand a picture of you?
The electric chair is a comfortless chair,
But I know an equally comfortless pair;
One is the dentist’s, my good sirs,
And the other is the photographer’s.
Oh, the fly in all domestic ointments
Is affectionate people who make appointments
To have your teeth filled left and right.
Or you face reproduced in black and white.
You open the door and you enter the studio,
And you feel less cheerio than nudio.
The hard light shines like seventy suns,
And you know your features are foolish ones.
The photographer says, Natural, please,
And you cross your knees and uncross your knees.
Like a duke in a high society chronicle
The camera glares at you through its monocle
And you feel ashamed of your best attire,
Your nose itches, your palms perspire,
Your muscles stiffen, and all the while
You smile and smile and smile and smile.
It’s over; you weakly grope for the door;
It’s not; the photographer wants one more.
And if this experience you survive,
Wait, just wait till the proofs arrive.
You look like a drawing by Thurber or Bab,
Or a gangster stretched on a marble slab.
And all your dear ones, including your wife,
Say There he is, that’s him to the life!
Some hate broccoli, some hate bacon,
But I hate having my picture taken.
For a location photographer it is always exciting when assignments take you to unusual places. Making environmental portraits inside a birdcage the size of a tennis court was a unique experience.
University of Pennsylvania animal behaviorist Dr. David White leads a course called Research Experience in Animal Behavior. He supervises students as they do hands-on research.
In the photo above, Greg posed the students to show them engaged in their research.
In a past issue of the Penn Arts & Sciences magazine the publication ran an article focused on one of Dr. White’s student groups who observed the behavior of cowbirds. Greg was asked to visit the research group and their professor at their aviary in the Morris Arboretum just outside of Philadelphia.
The location for these environmental portraits of Dr. White and his students gives the photos a rich sense of place.
Actor Leslie Nielsen died at age 84, on November 28, 2010, of complications from pneumonia. He was a late bloomer. His comedic roles in the movies, Airplane and the Naked Gun series gave him fame and fortune in his later years.
In 1999, I had an opportunity to photograph him when he spoke at the Penn Law School. Nielsen had a serious side and used his Hollywood earnings to present a one man show on the early twentieth century lawyer, Clarence Darrow. Darrow is famous for defending a teacher on trial for teaching evolution in the 1920s Scopes Monkey trial in Tennessee. Darrow was also against the death penalty and defended many people in capital cases including Leopold and Loeb, wealthy Chicago teenagers who kidnapped and killed a younger boy.
Retrieving the 1999 image of Nielsen from my archive is illustrative of how much the technology of image making has changed in eleven years. The original is a color negative that was in a job jacket in my studio attic. Once I found the negative, I scanned it, a process that took me around fifteen minutes. A digital original would have been much quicker to find, view and post.
At the end of the day, technology only matters so much, Nielsen’s deadpan comedic delivery brings laughs or groans, whether on film, DVD or youtube.
Each of the ads would showcase a different piece of custom furniture and a model playing the part of a satisfied DIYer showing off their efforts in their garage/basement/workshop. The furniture, its beautiful grain and finish, would be the hero in the shot and needed to be beautifully lit.
For an annual report assignment we created these photographs of doctors and nurses.
The Penn Law Journal, an alumni magazine, wanted a cover shot featuring six graduates from the class of 2009. The group photograph was shot for the cover of the magazine. The article on these students also featured a photograph of each of them with their families. The families were only available on graduation and both the group shot and the photos with the families had to be shot on the same day.
The day of Commencement we were under a time constraint and in a crowded public space where we had to create the high production value group portrait. The group photo was scouted with the art director and planned prior to the event. The art director helped select and approve the best view that would show six people in black gowns in the ornate setting of the Academy of Music, where the graduation ceremony is held. Because there was an event before the Law School graduation, our time to set up and shoot was limited.
Coordinating with each of the students and their families, we set times and locations to meet them.
Taking into account everyone’s schedules and also allowing time for each setting, locations were chosen at the Law School and near the Academy of Music.
The settings switch from indoor to outdoor and because they were shot during different times of the day, a range of visual variety was possible.
It is worth noting that the Law Journal’s piece succeeds in being a testament to the diversity of students that the school attracts. Each of the family groups is so different. While at different stages of their life’s journey, all of these graduates are commencing their careers at the same time.
To read more about these students see the online version of the Fall 2009 issue of Penn Law Alumni Journal.
It is always helpful to have the final use of a photograph in mind during the planning stages and during a shoot. For instance if images are destined to only be used on the web, simple compositions shot in landscape format often work better.
For a much larger size like a billboard some of the same considerations, like simplicity, are relevant. In addition, quality and resolution are important factors in producing a photograph for a billboard. Format and orientation are often prescribed by an existing layout. Billboards are large budget projects and the client will typically already have approved the final design by the time we get involved in the project.
Named as one of TIME Magazine’s 100 most influential people in 2009, Sister Mary Scullion is cofounder of Project H.O.M.E.. Project H.O.M.E. describes itself as a program that “empowers people to break the cycle of homelessness, address the structural causes of poverty, and attain their fullest potential as members of society.”
The most recent billboard shows Dr. Ray Washington, class of 1991. For Dr. Washington, playing for St. Joseph’s demanding basketball team and simultaneously pursuing a pre-med major, made medical school easier by comparison.
Earlier this year we were hired by the School of Arts and Sciences at the University of Pennsylvania to photograph students and teachers interacting during class. Over the course a day we sat in on half a dozen classes ranging in subjects from film, Japanese studies, economics, history, and philosophy. We listened in on many interesting and informed discussions–all without having to worry about studying for any tests!
The above shot is from a discussion in Professor Simon Richter’s film class. The classroom lights were dimmed and the windows were blacked out to allow him to screen movie clips for his students. We set up a minimal amount of lighting to mimic the effect of natural light streaming in through a window.
Not all the classrooms required setup lighting, Professor Struck’s Religion and Literature class was held in a room blessed (fittingly) with a tall, cathedral-like window. The image of the professor jotting down notes from an ongoing class discussion benefits from that natural light mixing with the classroom lights. His gesture and the lighting have an easy, natural candid feel.
Professor Eudey’s Economics class was held in a darkened lecture hall as she projected powerpoint slides as visual aides to her lesson. Here flash would have been a distraction. About a third of the students were armed and ready with laptops, their faces bathed in the glow of their individual computer screens adding mood to the more general glow of the larger projected screen at the front of the room. While some aspects of the college experience (the lecture hall) remain constant, other things have changed (note taking on laptops).
The glow of the projector sharply cut the contour of one side of Professor Kano and soft window light defined the other, while she discussed Japanese identity in a modern, post-isolated world.