There’s a bit of dance going on here: who will lead? I don’t know the person I’m about to photograph, and he, or she, doesn’t know me. Maybe it’s an assignment and I’ve got a short time with that person and things need to unfold quickly. I might be asked, “What do you want me to do?” I might reply, “What would you like to do?” This response may not be comforting. I’d guess most people would prefer to simply submit to the process, “I’m in your hands now, I sure hope you know what you’re doing.”
But I don’t want to be in control (with notable exceptions). I have a different agenda. I want to be surprised, I want to be taken on a ride with the person before me, I want to accept, totally, who they are and I want something of that juice to be evident in the picture. The moment I take over is the moment I lose interest because all I am going to see in the resulting portrait is my hand, and I don’t want to see my hand.
Can I erase myself from the process, become invisible? Not always. More truthfully, not much. But I don’t come armed with a signature lighting system, or lens, or even a concept. I’ve tried to coax a few celebrities into clothes they didn’t want to wear or situations they didn’t want to be in, and not only did I fail to convince them they should trust me, I felt stupid. Which is the last thing you want to feel when you’ve got a camera in your hands. Engaged, yes. Curious, yes? Charmed, yes? Stupid? No.
Over the years I’ve come to believe that if I just put myself out there, and, in a manner of speaking, “fall in love” with the person I’m photographing, something good will happen. I want the person to like the picture I’ve done, but I also want them to see themselves in it: their flaws as well as their individual strengths. Acceptance of who they are.