It’s one thing to make a picture of what a person looks like, it’s another thing to make a portrait of who they are. Paul Caponigro
Annie Leibovitz on shooting portraits...
When I'm taking someone's photo I never set anyone at ease. I always thought it was their problem. Either they were at ease or they weren't. That was part of what was interesting about a picture. Setting people at ease is not part of what I do. The question assumes that one is looking for a "nice" picture, but a good portrait photographer is looking for something else.
It might be a nice picture and it might not. I know, however, that I do set people at ease because
I'm very direct. I'm there simply to take the picture and that's it.
Most people don't like having their picture taken. It's a stressful, self-confrontational moment. Some people are better at it than others. I work best with people who can project themselves, but many people can't do that. Or they don't want to. They don't feel good about themselves. Or they feel too good about themselves. I'm not very accomplished at talking to people, and I certainly can't talk to people and take pictures at the same time.
Richard Avedon seduced his subjects with conversation. The classic anecdote about Avedon getting what he wanted from a sitter is the one about him going to photograph the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. They were great animal lovers. They doted on their pugs. Avedon set up the portrait, talking all the while, and just before he took the picture he told them a story, completely untrue, about how on the way to the sitting his taxi had run over a little dog. That broke their composure. He got the famous portrait of them looking anguished.
Maybe if I live another fifty years I could do that. You have to admire it, though. I think the only form of seduction I'm capable of is the assurance that I'm a good photographer and that we're going to do something interesting. I've never asked anyone to do something that didn't seem right for them. And I don't ask them to do something for no reason.
It's a collaboration. Especially if you're working with an entertainer, an actor or a comedian. I ever make people do anything. But I'm the photographer. It's a photo session. A lot of it is about play. I'm interested in getting something unpredictable, something you don't normally see. Even so, when the picture starts to happen, it's often a surprise.
If I didn't have my camera to remind me constantly, I am here to do this, I would eventually have slipped away, I think. I would have forgotten my reason to exist.
Listen to the work:
In every project, whether it is personal or commercial, there are clients, bosses, curators, teachers, and colleagues, all of whom will tell you their opinions. We may be oppressed by them or uplifted by them but there's little doubt that they affect us. And when we listen too much to them, we are not listening to the work itself. One of greatest (and most difficult to achieve) values in the process of art making, is the dialogue that goes on within the work itself.
There are many examples of artists articulating their need to listen to what the work wants to do and how it wants to progress. It may sound trite, but remember the story of Michelangelo when he sculpted The Dying Slave? He was reacting to the block of marble and felt there was a form inside that he simply needed to free. Most fiction writers say that they don't determine what their characters will do; the characters tell the writer what they will do.
Finding the authenticity in your work involves getting rid of encrusted layers of opinions, styles, and accomplishments (yours and others'). And by the way, the most recalcitrant editor of all is probably you. During an interview for one of his exhibitions, the painter Philip Guston spoke, metaphorically, about what it’s like in the studio: “You’re in your studio and it’s filled with all these people: friends, teachers, family, curators, art critics, and soon. One by one they leave, then you're alone. And then yes, finally, you leave, too.” The point is that before you can hear the work, you have to silence all the people in your head telling you what the work means, encouraging you or discouraging you, and bringing their baggage. Even (or especially) you. The conversations, the influence, and the momentum are within the work: one step leads to another; one mark informs the next.
Quantity Equals Quality.
In Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking, David Bayles and Ted Orland describe a ceramics teacher who, at the beginning of the semester, split the class in two. One half was told they would be graded on the quantity of work: the more a student produced, the higher the grade. The second group would be graded on quality; to get an A, a student only needed to produce one pot, but it had to be perfect. It turned out that at the end of the semester, the work of highest quality was produced by the students in the “quantity” group. That group was constantly learning and improving, while the other group “sat theorizing about perfection” and did not progress in their actual work.
Most artists I know produce a huge volume of work in order to have just a few pieces to show. Each new piece contains information about the direction they should take. Producing a lot is a way of reaching a destination
Reaching Your Goals.
In school and in business, the physical goals for work are clear: the critique, the portfolio, the product on the shelf, the magazine ad, the annual report, and so on. But there is another way of thinking about the goals for your work, and that is to pay attention to the voyage (or process) of getting there. By trusting the state of not knowing, you keep yourself open. Your unformed ideas need time to meander. Keep working; the answers will come when they are ready.
Art Without Compromise