Joshua is a deeply emotional guitarist that creates folksy soulful rifts and moving lyrics. I wanted to create a portrait that could say in visuals what I was feeling from his music. Music and photography have been paired from the beginning of photography. It is the photograph that helps to entice us to want to listen to the music. When the creating a portrait for musicians I first want to take time to listen to their music and then create an image that is born from that experience. Joshua was an excellent subject and totally at ease in the process.
One Photographer’s View
I am posting one more image from last Sundays Ballroom Dance shoot. I have chosen to render this portrait image in black and white. I feel black and white photography emphasizes the fundamental elements of an image. Devoid of color, we are presented with composition light, shadow and movement. Black and white images allow the viewer to be carried away into a more ethereal place where one begins to feel the image at a deeper level. I am enchanted by the grace and movement of dance. It can be ballet. Jazz, modern, ballroom room or primitive, the expression of emotion translated into movement is exhilarating. Igor Colac and Roxane Milotti are the embodiment of grace and movement. I am excited by this series of portraits and I am planning more images incorporating movement as an art form.
I want to share a great Sunday shoot. As many of you know I usually take Sunday to work on projects that I am inspired by and this Sunday was no exception. I met Roxane Milotti and Igor Colac a few weeks age and found out that they were world class #Ballroom #Dancers. I love the movement and beauty of dance and have photographed many dancers in the past. After meeting with #Roxane and #Igor, I was struck by their elegance and knew I had to #photograph them. I designed this shot and last night after the dance studio closed we were able create this series. It was very cool to have a good friend and fellow photographer Ana Gibert lend a hand in styling and makeup touch up. It is always a little unnerving to have a photographer of Ana’s stature on the set but she is such a trooper that things ran extremely smooth. I am posting the first one the series with more to follow.
What a cool shoot this was! I hit the buzzer of my security gate and in pulled a tricked out sport Bentley Continental GT. Even sitting still, this car looked like it was moving at the speed of light. The door opened and out step Victor Ortiz champion boxer and resent Dancing with the Stars contestant. I must admit I was expecting the usual celebrity shoot, accompanied by entourage and attitude. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that Victor was a very cool down to earth guy. No, “I’m so special” attitude, Just the same workman like approach that has propelled him to the upper ranks of the pro boxing community. Accompanied by the art director and a video crew we all settled down to create a Portrait ad campaign for Victor’s new line of men’s toiletries. It takes a while for things to transition from image creation to final product but Victor Ortiz’s VO cologne is now available through most men’s cosmetic suppliers.
Well this past weekend’s fine art portrait workshop, “The Creative Process from Concept to Completion”, held at my Downtown Los Angeles studio, was a fun and challenging experience. It was presented for our local chapter of PPA, Professional Photographer of Los Angeles County. Nothing ever goes the way you plan and this Sunday’s workshop was no exception. I had a day planed that included working on developing the creative process for the morning session and then a fine art portrait demonstration for the afternoon breakout.
Well when I began the demo one of the attendees, that had agreed to be photographed, threw me a curve. I had previously workout this cool seated and contemplative image setup before hand and thought I would just set him down and shoot. But, wouldn’t you know it, he challenged me to do a portrait with him standing along his tripod mounted camera. This turned out to be a great learning experience, as all my setup had to be scraped and I had to create on the fly, so to speak. By the time we ended the workshop I had photographed several of the attendees in different poses and lighting concepts. You can see the results in this post.
Well, he wasn’t just some teacher. He was the Dean of Photography at the Kent State University Department of Photojournalism and I was an arrogant freshman who, unfortunately, had tasted a thimble-full of success in the world of professional photography. Protected by supportive well-wishers for too long, I had no clue how much I was still a beginner. So, full of myself, I went off at the first guy to actually critique my work.
Which was not a wise thing to do to a dean at a major university.
Early 1960s, Kent State was the Berkeley of the East and there I was, hanging out with the artists and hippies, most often at a bar called the Fifth Quarter. I was living the dream, something that started when I was a young boy growing up in Columbus, Ohio.
My folks, both public high school teachers, had given me a camera, a little Kodak Brownie Starfish, that they managed to get through saving Green Stamps. I was in Boy Scouts and, encouraged to go after the photography merit badge, I ended up taking a shot of my dad sitting in his chair with his pipe in his mouth.
Classic. Totally fun.
We lived in a close-knit community and soon everyone heard what I doing. One of my dad’s friends, a prominent medical doctor, was a shutterbug himself, even having his own darkroom. He told my dad, “Have Little George come over and I will develop his film for him.”
Wasn’t long before we were in that dark room putting my roll of film through the tanks. The moment I saw the first image develop right before my eyes, I was hooked for life. I had actually found something that I could do that was uniquely mine and where I wasn’t like everyone else.
After high school, I applied and got accepted by Kent State University for photojournalism. However, being on my own for the first time, instead of walking the line and applying myself to the dream, I proceeded to major in partying.
I literally drank myself out of one of the best opportunities of my life. Realizing that I had flunked out of school, I said to myself, “Well, George, you can’t go home. Your dad will kill you.” You see, in my family, there were three acceptable professions. You could be a doctor, lawyer, teacher or some kind of professional. You could go into the clergy. Or, last but not least, the military.
Still optimistic about what I could do, I imagined myself like my Uncle Tip, who had been a mustanger in the Army during World War II. He was such a hero in my life.
Uncle Tip was one of key soldiers who pushed the famous Red Ball Express for General Patton, a predominantly black convoy unit that supplied the troops during Patton’s campaign throughout Europe. Although he enlisted as a private, he ended his career in the military as a full Colonel. When I was growing up, I used to go with Uncle Tip to pistol competitions and he let me tag along with him and the other World War II vets as they drank bourbons, smoked cigars and told stories.
With Kent State rightfully showing me the door, I said to myself. “I will go into the military. I will go to Vietnam and become a great war correspondent. ”
Bottom line, I wanted to be like Gordon Parks, who, in my day, was the Jackie Robinson of photography. During a time when America was still segregated, Gordon Parks rose to prominence as the first African American to be hired by Life Magazine. With that accomplishment, Parks broke made a way for any other black man to make it in the world of photography. Parks showed young men like me that, if you applied yourself, the limits were gone,
Many decades later, I had the honor of actually meeting Gordon Parks near the end of his career. By that time, he was well-known not only as a photographer but also as a composer and movie director, specifically of the blockbuster film, Shaft. “Be true to yourself,” is what he said to me with a smile. I was so overwhelmed at meeting Parks that I completely forgot to ask him for an autograph or a photo.
At nineteen, thinking I would be a war correspondent, I enlisted with the U.S. Navy but instead of photography, I got assigned to running radar on an aircraft carrier. The more I wanted the dream, the more it seemed to be getting away from me.
After doing my time in the Navy, I ended up in Los Angeles. It was the height of the 1960s and the Hollywood music scene was the place to be. I started taking photographs of music legends such as Jimmy Hendrix and Janis Joplin playing at clubs such as the Troubadour The Whiskey A GoGo and the Rainbow Room. The day that Music Connection Magazine named me as one of their top photographers my life seemed to be finally back on track.
Truth was that my life had turned into an all night party. I hadn’t learned the lesson yet. Instead of grabbing hold of success, I was still choosing to major in hedonism. Sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll.
Didn’t take all that long for me to hit bottom and lose everything. Cocaine addiction, alcohol abuse and an earthquake that busted up my studio landed me right at the bottom. Everything that mattered — my family, business, life-long dream – down the toilet. I even pawned my photography equipment to buy drugs. Three heart attacks (where I flat-lined) almost did me in completely.
Then came the day that I finally decided to end it. I had nothing to live for. I took all the drugs and alcohol I had, everything and I passed out in the bathroom of a crack hotel. I woke up, shocked to still be alive. In the mirror, I saw someone I didn’t recognize.
I stared at myself and wondered, “What ever happened to that kid with the Brownie camera?”
Somewhere, deep inside, maybe because of the church-upbringing, probably because of the prayers of my parents and those who still loved me, the tide began to turn. I managed to get arrested which ended up being a blessing in disguise. The arrest landed me in front of a pessimistic judge who, contrary to all her instincts, didn’t throw me into jail but instead ordered me into a court-ordered recovery program. “I don’t know why I am doing this because people like you hardly ever change but I am going to give you 180 days in a rehab and then the next time I see you I will lock you up for the rest of your natural life”.
It was the chance I need to turn thing around and after a lot of sweat and tears I put my addictions behind me and have stayed sober ever since. I eventually went back to college and I got my Bachelor of Arts Degree in counseling with a minor in web design.
After the journey I have gone through and the bad choices I have made, you would think I would be a cynical pessimist. Quite the opposite. I am the external optimist. I am the glass half full guy. I am the ant that dropped the rubber tree plant. I am the ram that can knock down the dam. Not because I did things right. No. It is because God has shown me great love, compassion and mercy, in spite of every dumb decision I have made.
After years of living the life you learn with, my dream of creating exceptional portraits that reveal the true nature of the person being photographed, by means of the passionate way I see them is alive and well – which is a miracle in itself. I have my own studio, expanding clientele and growing prominence in the field. In this I know, I stand at the feet of giants who have gone before me. Gordon Parks. Yosef Karsh. Ansel Adams. George Hurrell. Masters who works will endure forever. I owe my art the best and I don’t tolerate from myself anything less than what I feel they would produced.
I am a happy man. I love what I do. And I get to do it.
Of the many things I loved about Uncle Tip was the fact that he was a hero in World War II, which, as a black man, had special meaning because the prevalent belief in the military during that time was that African Americans didn’t have the guts for fighting. After enlisting as a private, Uncle Tip rapidly distinguished himself. He ended up pushing the Red Ball Express, the predominately black unit that ran hundreds of convoy trucks, twenty-four hours a day throughout war-torn France supplying General Patton’s troops.
During those years at war, Uncle Tip experienced the worst hell threw at him. Trucks getting blown up. Dead bodies. Loss of friends. Still, he and the Red Ball Express got the job done. They didn’t fail Patton or the men on the front lines who counting on them to get the supplies through.
I imagine no photo would be capable of capturing the spirit of this man. Or anyone else, for that matter. Yet, as portrait photographers, we try. We work to get a living, authentic connection between that two-dimensional moment captured in time and every future pair of eyes gazing upon it. We want the person looking at our photos to feel something emanating from that face in the image.
Like most creative artists, I often find myself battling against the common misconception that what I do is mostly a technical process. I suspect this belief hangs around because the medium itself has become diluted by mediocre photographers whose mediocre work has been passed around as being something when it is not.
Great photography, the kind that is outside of time, always has creative insight behind it.
More than not, I have been told by those who run art galleries that my work needs to be grittier. “Put in some of the dark side. Some of the ugly.” Problem is that I don’t see human beings that way. When I look through the lens, I see that individual’s unique beauty, dignity and nobility. The person could be a skid row drag queen and I would want to make them be photographed the most noble skid row drag queen. I want people to say, “Wow. Look at that. That’s beautiful.”
I am this way because….? Too much dope? Who knows? I am simply the external optimist. The glass half full guy. I am the ant that dropped the rubber tree plant: I am the ram that knocked down the dam. To me, there is beauty in every human being.
To see it, though, means you have to lose the mask.
Yet, here in Los Angeles, everyone wears a mask, some with designer labels. As a portrait photographer, I want to capture the person hiding behind a mask. So, with humor, patience and understanding, I work with my subjects to help them lose some of their self-consciousness, at least long enough for us to capture the real “them.”
I understand that the choice between having a root canal and having a picture taken can be a tough call. My goal is to create an environment and atmosphere that allows make my clients to feel safe enough put down that mask for a fraction of a second. To let them be themselves. Which is a beautiful thing. If I am prepared for that moment, which I will continue, jokes and all, until I am, we will capture them.
It can take time but the results are worth it.
The vast majority of my clients – even those with the guts to stare down a growling assistant district attorney at twenty paces — bulk, squirm and dig in their heels when having their portrait taken. Others turn into something that belongs on Mount Rushmore.
One tactic that often works is humor. I am a strong believer in that time-proven, make-‘em-laugh routine; the theory being that if I can get them laughing at me, a guy who is completely comfortable with the fact that I am not the most beautiful person in the world, then they just might be themselves. The stiffer the client, the funnier I get. Sometimes I just can’t help myself.
“George, I would rather have a root canal than get photographed.”
“Hey, my sister is a dentist. I keep a stack of her cards right here. You can get that root canal and have your portrait taken at the family discount rate!”
That usually melts the some of the frost. Even with those who are searching for the fountain of youth.
“Please. Call me George.”
“Mr. Deloache. Listen. I do not want to look old.”
“Ma’am, I will make you look so young that you are going to get carded.”
Cross my heart and thank Photoshop. By the time I get done, you will be ten, maybe fifteen years, younger.
Then you have the average Joe like me.
“I like your work, George, but come on, man. Look at me. I am 6’4.” I’m big, fat, old and bald. I hate every picture taken of me.”
“I specialize in guys who look just like me. Old. Fat. A little out of shape. If I can make me look good, I know I can make you look good. After all, look at this face.”
“Dude, you’re no Telly Savalas, but, hey, if you have a bald head, wear it proudly. Get it out there. Let everyone see it.”
“Think so?” they invariably say, taking a glance in the mirror. Maybe the sky isn’t falling after all.
“Let it shine, man”
“Maybe you’ve got a point, George.”
Even though my sense of humor might appear goofy for an A-list portrait photographer, I understand the natural resistance that human beings have to being photographed. It is rare to find children who are told that they are beautiful. Adults, even more, fall into that category. In a culture where beauty is among the most highly valued attribute, the definition of what is actually beautiful leaves most folks, including me, out in the cold.
So, with humor, patience and understanding, I work with my clients to help them lose some of their self-consciousness, at least long enough for us to capture the real “them.”
I understand that the choice between having a root canal and having your picture taken can be a tough call. My goal is to make my clients feel safe enough put down that mask for a fraction of a second. To let them be themselves. Which is actually a beautiful thing.
If I am prepared for that moment, which I will continue, jokes and all, until I am, we will capture it.
Truth is, when the masks come down, I have yet to find an ugly face. What I see is the spark. The life. I see the real you.
Old, bald, fat?
Perfect. Let it shine.
The man walked into the room and the air evaporated. I turned, not quite certain at what I was seeing. Tweed Herringbone double-breasted jacket. Black and white polka dot bow tie. Horn rimmed glasses and a pocket handkerchief. Self-expressing. Without care for convention. It was vintage chic; a way of dressing that you could only pull off in a major metropolitan area such as New York City or Los Angeles.
This was the chief executive officer.
The day had been a long one but thus far productive. I had just finished shooting portraits of the management team of this multi-billion dollar investment firm. Only one portrait remained; the top dog himself. There he was at the door, looking like some 1940s Hollywood mogul, inspecting the room with an unmistakable air of power.
My first thoughts? Ah-oh, Deloache. This could get tricky.
“So, you are the photographer,” he queried.
“Yes, sir. I am.”
“I do not wish to look fat.”
I would have laughed had I not known better.
“I certainly understand that, sir. I have photographed myself for years and if I can get it to work for me, I know I can make it work for you.”
His response was a mere frown. Clearly, from his point of view, the jury was still out on my answer. And after ten minutes, I was beginning to wonder. No matter what I did, this CEO remained stiff as a board. I pulled every trick out of the hat but nothing worked. I was starting to a little concerned around the edges. I might actually flop on the most important shot of the day.
I kept fixing lights, talking to myself and trying everything to put him at ease. Suddenly, I heard myself saying, “I have to tell you, sir, that I am so very impressed by the way you look. You have an air of a Hollywood mogul and the ambiance of a JP Morgan.”
With that, he looked at me down the barrel of those horn-rimmed glasses and said, deadpan, “George, you are full of shit.”
“Yes, sir,” I shot right back. “All the way up to my big brown eyes.”
Suddenly he laughed. The ice broke and for a brief moment, this hard-nosed executive let me see behind his façade. What I say didn’t surprise me. Truth was that the man dressed in tweed wasn’t the least bit hard-boiled. He was actually a bit of a character who dressed had such confidence that he dressed exactly the way he wanted. So much so that it said, “What do you expect? This is who I am.”
Over the next few minutes, we had made a connection and I got the shots. Although he never really smiled, he did say at the end of our time together, “This has been a very pleasant experience.”
Later, after he saw the portraits, he sent word to me. “I like the photographs. No one has ever made me look good.” What could have turned out to be a disaster ended up being a memory.
Such lessons come with experience. When I paid him that compliments, I was sincere but I was seeking to put him at ease because, without a fundamental level of trust between photographer and subject, the end result will fall short of the mark. Skill with people, listening to what they are saying behind what they are saying and understanding what is uniquely motivating them, often sets an experienced portrait photographer apart from someone just starting out.
It doesn’t matter how much money you have, what your job title is or whether you have no title at all. None of us want to look bad in a photograph. We want the best “us,” the unique individual that we are, to be captured in a way that makes us look fabulous. The camera doesn’t care what profession you have. Nor your history. A good photo simply captures the best “you.”
To capture that kind of shot requires trust. The responsibility for building that kind of trust lies on the shoulders of the photographer. In this, I seek to go every extra mile, even seeking to see what my clients see about themselves. For example, if I know that a potential client had some shots taken already but is not happy, I will say, “O.K. I am going to give you some homework. Send me the photos of yourself that you hate and tell me what you hate about them.”
After they send me the shots, I tell them, “Then I want you to get on the Internet sites, such as Google Images, and find some photos you really love. Send them to me and tell me what you love about those images?”
When they ask “Why,” I tell them, “I want to see what you see. All of us have some image in our mind that we believe is the perfect image.”
Invariably, as they tell me what they like and don’t like, I start hearing what they are seeing. “I like how this shot makes me feel free.” Happy. Strong. Successful. Youthful. Adventurous. “I like how that head is turned.” “The dramatic lighting.”
My goal is to understand that their vision. Once I see what they are seeing, I can create the best photo they have ever in their lives.
As my clients and I do this homework together, what they often don’t realize is that I am always a few miles ahead, envisioning the shot. In fact, I have found that the perfect portrait is usually already created in my head before the client sits down in front of the camera.
Homework? Of course, I do this with my clients at no charge. It is all part of the customer service and building trust. Being best in your field takes this kind of commitment, understanding and effort. For me, it is sheer joy. It is what I love to do.
Horn-rimmed glasses included.
Just last week I got a call from a very nice professional who, like many of my clients, needed a portrait done for her company’s website. Unfortunately, her reluctance was off the charts. She was extremely nervous at the prospect of having her picture taken and who could blame her? Truth be told, most human beings feel buck naked in front of camera. Not all the long ago, some primitive people believed that photographers were stealing souls. I am not so sure they were wrong.
So, I tried a little humor to calm her down a bit. “So, it sounds like you would rather have a root canal?”
She chuckled. Which was a good sign.
“George, from the earliest that I can remember, I hated having my photograph taken. You see, my dad was a photographer.”
“And he was constantly taking pictures of me!”
Guilty as charged. I have been photographing my own daughter when she was still in the womb.
“I look at those shots he took. Agh. I hate them. I am just not photogenic.”
Now, just hold the presses there, madam.
“Can I tell you something? You and my daughter, who is now thirty-one years old, have an awful lot in common. The last time I tried to take her picture she stuck her finger right up her nose at me. My daughter is so sick and tired me sticking a camera in her face that she has even banned my cameras from her house.”
“Smart girl,” she laughed this time. We were getting somewhere now.
“I know it’s easy for me to say but I do understand how you feel. But when I work with my clients, we are in this soup together. You won’t have to worry about the clock. We will take as many shots as we need. There won’t be any pressure or posing stuff you see in the Hollywood movies or some magazine. Every shot will go into the computer. So you can forget about blotchy skin, double-chins and even crooked noses.”
“How about root canals?”
“Welllll….you are going to have to see my sister, the dentist, for that. I know I have her card around here somewhere. Let me see….”
“O.K,” she said, taking a deep breath, meaning it. “O.K.”
What she would soon discover is that I know what I am talking about. Over the past forty years, I have taken over 20,000 portraits – which is not too bad for a guy who has seen the heights of celebrity fame and the lows of dog-dirty, Skid Row sidewalks. Throughout these years of seeking to be the best in my field, I have learned what great portrait photographers – like Gordon Parks, Yosef Karsh and George Hurrell – knew very well.
And it is this.
To achieve great portraits takes more than talent and life experience. You have to also understand the underlying dynamics of human nature and the vulnerability inherent in portraiture. Knowing how human beings think and feel, Parks, Karsh and Hurrell became masters in their craft, because, above all their natural gifts and technical skills, they also had the ability to make their subjects laugh, feel safe and take down the masks that we all hide behind.
So it is with me.
I am a creative artist who works with his clients to create a timeless image of their beauty, dignity, personality and unique selves. Doesn’t matter if the shot is for the web, some brochure or headshot, I guarantee that the process will be what I have promised — warm, friendly, without pressure and even enjoyable.
Such is the joy of my life. Few things come close to hearing the words, “George, I have never had a good picture taken of myself until now.”
Accomplish that and you are at a higher end of portraiture. You have found a photographer – and a friend — into whose hands you can entrust yourself.
Concealed in the darkness so familiar to the photographers of my youth, clad in the rubber apron and surrounded by the smell of the chemicals essential for this hallowed alchemy I anxiously waited for the magic to once again appear. And then there before me a watery image, an image I had created, an image that captured what my senses perceived but only my heart had seen, and now I could share it with the world. I was hooked.
Years have passed since the days of my youthful exuberance over the photographic image, years in which the passion has only intensified. With each passing year I find myself more and more enthralled with portrait photography, portraiture not purely as a reflection of reality but portraiture as an art form. The iconic images created by the masters of this art form Yousuf Karsh, Arnold Newman, George Hurrell, Clarence Bull, Richard Avedon, Horst P. Horst, and Irvin Penn to mention only a few, have left an indelible mark upon my heart. Portraiture is the art form that immortalizes.
A portrait has the unique ability to reveal the complexities of one’s humanness. A successful portrait delves beneath the surface of a simple likeness, peeling back that which is superficial and revealing the true character of personhood behind the mask. I chose photography as a portrait medium because of its uniqueness of speed. “There is a brief moment when all that there is in a man’s mind and soul and spirit may be reflected through his eyes, his hands, his attitude. This is the moment to record. This is the elusive, “moment of truth”. – Yousuf Karsh
I begin the creating of my photographic portraits long before the first frame is exposed. I want to know all that I can about the nature of the person whose portrait I am creating. The designing of the image is complete before ever placing the subject before the lens. The positioning of the light, the direction of the shadow, and the pose of the subject are all part of the pre-shoot meditations, sometimes continuing for days before the actual shoot. The shoot itself is all about evoking and capturing that essential moment when the mask is lifted. Karsh writes, “The revelation, if it comes at all, will come in a small fraction of a second with an unconscious gesture, a gleam of the eye, a brief lifting of the mask that all humans wear to conceal their innermost selves from the world. In that fleeting interval of opportunity the photographer must act or lose his prize”.
I photograph extremely fast, never giving the subjects a chance to think themselves into self-consciousness. A steady flow of direction mixed with encouragement inspires my subject to climb higher, leave fear behind and embrace the light. Music sets the mood and after a moment or so the subject forgets that they are being photographed and gets caught up in the flow of the event. It is a tango, so to speak. It is the dance of love and passion, the dancers moving with the music and with each other creating movement, emotion, and beauty. I beckon to all my subjects, come dance with me before my lens and I once again wait for the magic.