Distractions To A Minimum

Whether I’m taking pictures of friends, my dogs, travel, a model, or a movie star, my goal is to make the process as simple as possible, and to keep my distractions to a minimum. While on set of a campaign shoot a few weeks ago, I was having a conversation with the talent, and he asked me how I got into photography. A question I’ve been asked before but never really gave serious thought to.

Portrait of a celebrity looking up with a tree behind him

Andrew Garfield. Vanity Fair - Oscars - Beverly Hills.

First Meaningful Interaction

I suppose my first meaningful interaction with photography came from the weekly newspaper of my hometown of Chester, Vermont. The photographer for the paper, Wes Johnson, came to my class to teach us about photography. He handed out loaner cameras, explained ISO, F-stops, and shutter speeds, and we spent the rest of the day roaming around town taking pictures. If you saw something interesting, you took a picture of it. I didn’t know a lot back then, but I knew immediately that I saw things differently. And I don’t mean that in some abstract or metaphorical way—I mean it in the most literal way possible. Most of my classmates congregated together and shot variations of the same thing. I remember being corralled by teachers as I tried to peel off from the group and shoot what I was seeing.

Portrait of a woman in a street

Hannah Ferguson. CR Fashion Book - Milan

Combing Through Our Contact Sheets

About a week later, the photographer came back with developed film and we spent the rest of the afternoon combing through our contact sheets. I don’t think we had any concept of what constituted a “good” or “bad” photograph. We picked our favorites and Johnson circled them on the contact sheets, then he went back to his dark room and made prints for us. A week after that he showed up with the prints. We all discussed them as a class and, at the end of the day, Wes said he was going to select a photograph to go on the cover of the local paper for the following week’s edition. He chose mine.

Portrait of a man posing with his hand on his chin

Josh Brolin. Dune Premier - Venice, Italy

Personal Work

At that point, photography seemed fun—and simple. Most importantly, I fell in love with it and I never stopped taking pictures. I’ve had a camera with me for the last thirty years. That said, my answer to the talent’s question was that I’ve always been shooting, for just about as long as I can remember. And my style and method hasn’t really changed. Recently, I was asked by a magazine editor for a portfolio of my “personal work.” I was off-put by the request because I’ve never had much use for distinguishing between “personal” or “commercial.” Photography—especially portrait photography—is an inherently personal craft. You look through the viewfinder at your subject, they stare back, and you make an emotional connection with that person. I don’t know what could be more personal than that.

Portrait of a woman

Lily Aldridge. Met Gala. New-York

Perfection Is Unattainable

In this way, the business of photography can be frustrating. Three years ago, I reached a point I never thought I’d come to. I was ready to quit the business altogether. The landscape was changing, and the grind was starting to wear me down. I had been hired to work on what I thought would be my last job and, as always, I made a conscious effort to trust my gut, my own process, and to simplify the technical workflow. I used only available light, and I shot most of the job on medium format film. Shooting on film is fundamental to my process. It’s how I grew up; it’s where I feel comfortable, where mistakes are welcomed and perfection is unattainable.

Portrait of a group of boys, high contrast

Boys bathing at Galtaji

Caught A Special Moment

When the images from that shoot came out, everything changed. In no small measure, this was due to the subject, Timothée Chalamet, and the stylist, Virgil Abloh, but also because of the simplicity and beauty of the film images. We caught a special moment that breathed new life into my practice by reminding me exactly why I started in the first place.

Portrait of a celebrity with greenery behind him

Timothee Chalamet. Commissioned by Cartier for The Golden Globes - Hollywood