The morning before my shoot with Brittany DeGrofft I had intense daydreams about the pictures that might happen that afternoon. I couldn’t control my thoughts. I didn’t see any specific images… only blurs of wonder! The previous evening I also had daydreams of our shoot, but those images were visually empty and without feeling. Brittany and I had shot together several times in the past but that was four years ago. At that time I was in the beginning of my transition from commercial to art photography and Brittany was one of my first muses. So much had changed in my work since then.
I was a little worried about what kind of pictures I was about to take. I put a couple of lights on stands and set up a background in case all else failed. We planned on doing pictures for my “Intimate Portrait” series and I had told Brittany about the strong emotions that came during these shoots. Her responses seemed both excited and intrigued, only I had failed to tell her the part about the partial nudity and the fact I would be sitting on her lap or body for most of the shoot. I don’t know why? Sometimes the reality of the intimate shoots scares me and I didn’t want to pass that fear on to Brittany.
Subway problems. Brittany was running late. That was good. It gave me time to pull my thoughts together. The daylight coming through the windows in my living room was beautiful. We would begin on my couch; the original intimate portrait location. I would keep the shoot simple. Whatever Brittany wore would be part of the picture. I would add nothing.
Brittany arrived. I opened my door and instantly knew something special was about to happen. I wonder, when a model steps into my apartment if it’s like stepping into a magical world. You’d have to visit my house to understand. There’s a lot of stuff!
Brittany had changed during the years since we last worked together. She had matured into a beautiful woman beyond description. There was something about her emotional stature that struck me. It wasn’t just physical. I had never seen her without makeup. I’ll say it again. Her beauty was beyond description.
We stood and talked in my living room for a while. It gave me time to study her face in the light. There were no bad angles. There was something more going on inside Brittany than just a photogenic face. I felt as if she had emotionally prepared herself for whatever might happen during our shoot.
I told her the photographs were nudes. “I expected that,” she said. I never know what people sense from the portraits I post on Facebook. I told Brittany I would be sitting on her lap for most of the shoot. She was fine with that. It’s what I love about shooting dancers for this series. They’re so comfortable having other people inside their physical space. I pulled the coffee table away from the couch. Brittany sat down and we started shooting.
During the past two years I’ve photographed over 30 women for my “Intimate Portrait” project; many of them several times. What I saw in front of my camera, laying back on my couch, was something I had never seen before.
Having a group of muses to photograph is very important to me and my work. I spend a lot of time in galleries and museums, often studying the muses of the late 19th and early 20th century artists including Balthus, Picasso and Modigliani. I find Modigliani’s “reclining nude” series especially beautiful. It’s the honesty he’s captured in the models’ expressions. Brittany’s posing had this honestly and only afterwards, while walking through the modern section of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, did I notice how one series of images we shot compared with that body of Modigliani’s work. It’s more than the similar poses. It’s Brittany’s inner strength, willing herself to expose her emotions and body for the photographs.
Unlike painting or sculpture, the photographer can’t change the reality in front of him. The model has to be perfect. Image after image, Brittany’s focus on the camera was constant throughout; no matter the changes in her emotions or the slight adjustments of her body over time to give me a selection of perfect shapes.
It’s been a month since my shoot with Brittany and I still struggle to find the words necessary to describe our shoot together. Her intimate portrait session was different than all the others and I’ve yet to completely understand why. Looking at the images on my screen it seems that Brittany had a greater desire and determination to make her “intimate” portraits work than any of the previous women I’ve photographed for this series. That is saying a lot!
I know Brittany wanted me to take special pictures but somehow I feel she needed this shoot for herself. I don’t know if it was an emotional release or a search to find something; an emotion inside of her; one that might have been lost? All I know is this shoot was one of the best in my life. In some way I feel guilty. It’s one of the few times in my life where I felt the model gave more of herself to the shoot than I gave myself. It has happened a couple of times during the intimate series but never to this extent; perfect photos from the first to the last. Dare I say it was the “perfect” shoot? I do know one thing. I have this desperate need to photograph Brittany again. I want another chance at that feeling I had during out shoot, knowing at the time so many of the pictures were remarkable. I hope Brittany doesn’t make me wait too long.