Thursday, April 2, 2009

Making a Portrait: The Creative Process - Part One

Making a portrait. Sounds simple enough, right? This one won’t be, though, for reasons that will become obvious as we go along.
People have asked me along the way, “How do you think up some of your images?”
“Show us how your mind works.”
“Talk to us about the creative process.”
When they come to a workshop, there will be someone who always says something to this effect, “I don’t care about how to take another dang picture, I came because I want to watch those gears turning inside your head.”
“I want to watch you think.”
Apparently, to some, I’m something of a curiosity. Anyone who’s seen the movie “Elephant Man” should know that I watched it with more than a nodding acquaintance.
When I do a seminar or lecture, lots of people don’t seem to mind if I never get around to photography per se; it’s all connected anyway. Deal with the photographer, and the photographs will come. "Feed a man a fish...." You know the rest.
What I’m about to do here, I don’t think has ever been done...at least not to my knowledge, and it certainly won’t be done in the way I’m about to do it.
I’m going to document the process of going about the creative process, culminating in a photographic portrait.
This is not about taking a picture - it will be about making one. A very specific one, and only one.
This is the first installment of that process.
In truth, the process has already been underway for about a month, so let me bring some of you up to date.
About a month ago, someone asked me to become a Facebook friend. “Don’t know if you remember me or not, and there’s no reason that you should, but we met perhaps fifteen years ago through a couple who happen to be mutual friends.” That was all she said.
I accepted, and when I clicked the “accept” button on Facebook, a feeling suddenly swelled up in me that had not occurred in over a dozen to fifteen years. I heard myself say aloud, “I have to do another portrait.” WHAT????
Then I said, "Oh, my!" (or something to that effect)
For those of you who don’t know, I retired early from a professional photography career in order to find out what else was in me. I set the date for this retirement when I was sixteen with the goal of then spending a year of solitude in some wilderness, somewhere, as the “intermission” between the first and second halves of my life on earth.
Knowing that date so far in advance, I was able to do, in photography, all the things I desired to do. Many people, not knowing how long their careers or lives will last, will procrastinate and find themselves coming up short in the end. Having achieved my goals, I was able sell my business, all my equipment, lock, stock, and barrel, and walk away grinning, and without a single regret. I was done, and every cell of my body knew it. I was Done with a capital D.
So when this urge sprang up within me, around 14 years later, I was one surprised dude. I remember walking around and around, in the kitchen, in the library, up and down the hallway, up and down the driveway, through the garden, up the hill, through the woods and back, for the rest of that first day with this strange new seed germinating within me. I examined it as some kind of a curiosity, and picked at it as if it were some kind of a rare insect bite.
Whims are not part of my nature, and so when one comes along every few years, it gets my attention. Or rather, I should say, I have learned to PAY attention, for these never seem to turn out to BE whims. And this one wasn’t either.
I cried twice over it, depressed as hell, thinking it might be one of those Stage Seven Photographs. They're scary, and like I said, depressing as hell.
This story will introduce you - and me - to the first “Stage Eight” photograph. More about this Stage Eight stuff, and the previous Seven, later.