11/15/12: the decisive moment

self-portrait with mirror. grayslake, il. may, 2012

Last night, I attended an ASMP commercial portfolio review. It’s a once a year event where photographers have a chance to actually meet the people who might hire them for a job, or at the least, give their portfolio some constructive criticism. The event usually is held in a massive meeting space but due to unforseen circumstances, this year it had to be moved into a small studio. So there we were, 100 photographers and 35 reviewers crammed into a space that would make any fire marshal cringe whiling handing out a dozen little pink summonses.

Even though this was a commercial photography review, I decided to bring prints from my mirror series. Hardly commercial! So there I am, holding my little envelope of black and white prints, standing among the 100 other photographers carrying Ipads, printed photo books, and massive leather bound portfolios full of glossy color pictures.

rosalie o'connor with our waiter. le pain quotidien. december 31, 2011

The room was in chaos. I could hardly hear myself talk let alone hear the reviewers. After seeing the photo editor of Bust (it was a bust), an editor from the New York Times (maybe), and the photo editor of Essence Magazine (I will get work from them again!), I settle into the line for Louisa Curtis.

self-portrait with anne kirkup and russian champagne. october, 2012

I’ve seen Louisa several times at both commercial and fine art reviews. Louisa has a blog called Chatterbox, an eclectic mix of articles related to photography and some other fun stuff. Louisa is very smart and when you show her your work, you know she is paying attention and studying every photograph.

During these reviews, I always go to see Louisa when I’m feeling lost. After two hours of standing in line to see reviewers who didn’t get my work, listening to the other photographers in line complaining how there is no work, and getting whacked by two ton portfolios every time another photographer walked by; I needed to be refreshed.

Sitting in front of Louisa, I could finally hear myself think again. Thinking about it now, the feeling I had while talking to Louisa was the same feeling I have during a photo shoot. When I’m taking pictures, I see or hear nothing except the model in front of me. I can be in a room full of assistants, clients, and support staff but it’s like no one but the model and I are in the room. It was like that with Louisa last night.

As Louisa is flipping through my prints, she comes to the photograph of Alison (Cook Beatty) in Chinatown, taken just after the end of the Chinese New Year’s parade. It’s one of my favorite pictures in the mirror series. I mention to Louisa how this photograph was one of those Henri Cartier-Bresson “decisive moments”. Cartier-Bresson is known for finding the right place at the right time, his keen eye knowing a great photograph is coming and waiting for that decisive moment when all of the elements come together.

alison cook beatty after the chinese new year's parade. january, 2012

My photograph of Alison was so much like that, I thought of Cartier-Bresson when the photograph was beginning to happen. As Alison was standing in the street holding the mirror, the old Chinese gentleman walks past and stops to stare into the mirror, wondering what these two crazy people are doing? In the distance, I see the two women down the street, walking in our direction. I know a potentially great picture is in the works but will the man stay in his place, looking into the mirror until the women reach the right position? I say to Alison, “Don’t you move.” I start shooting as the women work their way up the street. I’m so excited I’m whispering to myself under my breath, “Please, please, please (keep coming).” Just as the women hit the perfect spot for my composition, the blonde woman in the corner of the frame looks right at me and matches Alison’s gaze. The Chinese man says something in apparent astonishment over the whole situation and gives me the perfect reflection. It was perfect. I was so happy. I couldn’t have done it any better if I had set up the shot. I felt for a moment Cartier-Bresson had watched over me.

ava and sandeye renz at valerie's christmas party. december, 2011

Louisa mentioned how lucky Cartier-Bresson was to have a career where he had the time to go out and look for the decisive moment. Most photographers never have that luxury, especially those working in expensive cities like New York. I’ve tried to be better with the mirror series, bringing mirrors and my camera almost everywhere I go. If I see a photo opportunity appearing before my eyes I can set up the mirror and begin shooting. It worked that way with Carolina (Rivera Moreno) at the World Trade Center Memorial, with Anne Kirkup while sharing Russian champagne in her apartment, and with Sandeye and Ava Renz during Valerie Sonnenthal’s Christmas party.

carolina rivera moreno at the world trade center memorial. february, 2012

The mirror photographs are the first pictures in many years where I’ve been able to give myself the time to let the images develop. In the past, when somehow life didn’t seem so busy, I could travel around the world, solely for the purpose of taking great pictures. I spent months wandering the shore of Maine, the desolation of Death Valley, the beauty of England, and the streets of St. Petersburg, Russia. Russia was so amazing. There seemed to be Cartier-Bresson moments everywhere I went.

school children on the beach. lyme regis, england. may, 1982

Louisa’s words always help my process of developing a project or just giving me direction or motivation, even if it has nothing to do with the images I’ve shown her. Unlike so many people who view my work, Louisa seems to understand where I’m coming from. I think it’s because she really cares.

st. petersburg, russia. july, 1988

Louisa’s blog can be found at… http://chatterblog.chatterboxenterprises.com/

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