Starting a 2022 Large Format Portrait Project

I’m inspired by many portrait photographers. Five I can think of right off the top of my head would be Judith Joy Ross, Duane Michals, Lora Webb Nichols, Gregg Miller and the masterful August Sander.

August Sander. Young Farmers. 1914

Ross, Nichols, Miller and Sander because they documented people in a way that shows them in the most direct way, seemingly un-posed. There’s something raw, and very real, in the way they depict people. And they all used large format cameras to create their photographs.

Duane Michals because he creates photographs and portraits, and then he takes them further. He writes on them and brings to them words that may not be entirely true, but make a great story.

And the medium matters. It changes the way people respond to the photographer. The large format camera gets a different response from the subject.

I’m also inspired by musicians who create great lyrics in music. My favorites are Tom Waits, Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Leonard Cohen, Nick Cave and Joe Jackson. All use words in ways that make stories come alive, lyrics that remind me of Michals’ photographic work.

This year I am starting a large format photographic portrait series called, “By The Water” to document people at the local lake and the community’s swimming pools. People at play. It’s spring and the local lake is starting to get busy. I’ve seen it packed many times. I call it the town promenade–it’s where people come and walk and to see and be seen. There’s plenty of frolicking going on.

Three young people posing for the Rolleiflex. The Rolleiflex is a conversation starter, but it doesn’t take long enough to create a photograph that the subjects stop smiling, their standard pose. The Rolleiflex, being so quick, isn’t right for this project.

These three were kicking a soccer ball alongside the lake. As noted above, the goal isn’t necessarily to create smiling portraits, but it’s what they did naturally and I let them be themselves without direction. With the large format camera, I will direct them more.

I also want to add words. Create narratives as part of the photographs. Add stories to the work, perhaps. Not sure exactly how those will work. For the photograph above, perhaps something like this.

Can three people really be best friends? Especially if two like the same person? I mean, look at him, he’s fit, athletic. Great hair, even. What will friendship allow? And why did she get to stand next to him and I didn’t?

That may not be very good. That’s the first thing that came to mind so I wrote it. The idea is to use photography to document the people of my town, and also to write some text that elevates it, if that is possible. It certainly changes it into a narrative–we know by the end of the text who’s talking, and what they’re thinking.

There’s a chance I won’t use text, if it feels too extraneous to the photograph or seems unneeded. And also that I end up using the Rolleiflex precisely because it is quick if I find the large format is too time-consuming and people become uninterested in posing for it. That’s the beauty of being at the start of a project, you get to try ideas and see what works best. It’s an evolving project. I will see what I get and then decide whether to continue it in that same direction or change it in some way.

I can hear people asking, “What do you mean you don’t have all the answers, you’re a pro?”

Yes, I’ve been a working professional photographer for 35 years. In that time I’ve learned that as photographers, the best ones are essentially great problem solvers. We have to find the story and figure out a way to make it work. It’s not always right the first way we try. That’s the creative process–it allows modification based on what’s already working so we can keep it going.

What’s your plan for 2022? What are your working on?

2 thoughts on “Starting a 2022 Large Format Portrait Project

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  1. I keep busy with the monthly 2022 Frugal Film Project (1 camera that cost under $75 and the same film sock for the year one roll a month). your weekly Photo Game, my own personal daily instant photo, I do a daily drawing as well as participate in a daily drawing from prompts on a Facebook group (I don’t always get to finish one daily, but do what I can). I also try to draw from a live model weekly and also shoot as much film as I can the rest of time when I am not working at my day job!!!

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