Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Let Me Get in Your Face for a Minute

He Called This His “Blue Steel” Pose, 2012

I’m in New York this week taking a photography workshop on the topic of “Photographing People.”

There are people in my photographs. But generally speaking, I seem to work hard to keep people out of my photographs. So my goal in participating in this workshop is the break down the wall between me and people.

It’s not that I don’t like people. It’s just that years ago I got into the habit of leaving people out of my photographs because 1) they “got in the way” and 2) I had this naïve sense that my lack of model releases would make the photos unsellable; no people, no model release worries.
This was also when I also had the naïve belief that my photography would some day be worth something commercially. And while it has generated a wee bit of income for the Bonney economy—enough to support a few camera supply purchases, but not enough to qualify as a business in the eyes of the Internal Revenue Service—it’s not like the lack of people has been holding my brilliant photographic career back.

There are seventeen people in our workshop. I’m pretty sure I’m the oldest member by a good twenty years. But rather than treating me like some arcane relic—I’ve been taking pictures longer than the workshop instructor—some of the younger kids have taken me on as something of a genial grandfather.

My classmates are a diverse group. I thought I was going to be the outsider because I come from Virginia Beach. But it turns out only five of us are from the United States. The rest come from as far away as Milan, Buenos Aires, Guatemala City, Beirut, Mexico City, Caracas, Rio de Janeiro, Taiwan, and even Yekaterinburg, which if you didn’t know—and I didn’t—is the fourth largest city in the former Soviet Union.

Some of my classmates are, or are hoping, to become professional photographers. Others, like me, merely want to advance their skills, but have day jobs doing things like working as a librarian, chemistry teacher, newspaper and magazine journalist, hotel manager, hairdresser, psychologist and human resources manager. Some live in places where you can stand on any street corner and photograph people. Others live in places where this could get you shot or “disappeared.”

The first day of class the instructor talked for a while and then threw us out into Bryant Park and then Rockefeller Center to photograph interesting looking strangers. I’m pretty sure I asked more strangers if I could photograph them on that one day than I’ve asked in my whole lifetime. Most of the people said “Yes,” and even of those who said “No” weren’t hostile.

Well, except for a man who was playing chess and kept insisting that I photograph his partner, but who instead became quite hostile when I did just that. (We were advised to wear comfortable shoes and run away quickly when that happens.) Or classmate Joe, who was verbally and nearly physically assaulted by a mentally unhinged lady. But don’t feel sorry for Joe. He made up for it later by getting the e-mail address and phone number for the cute lady running the Mr. Softee stand.

As for me, needing something to focus my efforts on so that I wouldn’t just accost innocent civilians, I decided to concentrate my efforts on making friends with some of the people who work in Bryant Park. Oh, and this girl with the cool tattoos.

“Give me a dolphin,” she said, 2012


  1. Yay! I want to hear more about your strategy for approaching strangers. Is it just as simple as saying, "Hey, that's a cool tattoo. Can I take your picture?" while pouring on the Bonney charm?

  2. Good for you! My son has done work in studios with models, and he seems to be really enjoying it. The photos you're coming up with "out there" are wonderful! Sounds like a neat course.

  3. Nice work! But trust are not 20 years older than me. Not even close.