“I always prefer to work in the studio. It isolates people from their environment. They become in a sense . . .symbolic of themselves. I often feel that people come to me to be photographed as they would go to a doctor or a fortune teller – to find out how they are.”
‘I once went to Washington for what they call a “photo opportunity” with Henry Kissinger. As I led him to the camera, he said a puzzling thing. He said, “Be kind to me.” I wish there had been time to ask him exactly what he meant, although it’s probably clear. Now, Kissinger knows a lot about manipulation, so to hear his concern about being manipulated really made me think. What did he mean? What does it really mean to “be kind” in a photograph? Did Kissinger want to look wiser, warmer, more sincere than he suspected he was? Do photographic portraits have different responsibilities to the sitter than portraits in paint or prose? Isn’t it trivializing and demeaning to make someone look wise, noble (which is easy to do), or even conventionally beautiful when the thing itself is so much more complicated, contradictory, and therefore fascinating? Was he hoping that the photograph would reveal a perfect surface? Or is it just possible that he could have wished – as I would have if I were being photographed – that “being kind” would involve allowing something more complicated about me to burn through: my anger, ineptitude, strength, vanity, my isolation. If all these things are aspects of character, would I not, as an artist, be unkind to treat Kissinger as a merely noble face? Does the perfect surface have anything to do with the artistic integrity of a portrait?
A photographic portrait is a picture of someone who knows he’s being photographed, and what he does with this knowledge is as much a part of the photograph as what he’s wearing or how he looks. He’s implicated in what’s happening, and he has a certain real power over the result. The way someone who’s being photographed presents himself to the camera and the effect of the photographer’s response on that presence is what the making of a portrait is about. The philosopher Roland Barthes once said a very wise thing about photography. He said, “Photography is a captive of two intolerable alibis. On the one hand, ‘ennobled art pictures.’ On the other hand, ‘reportage’ which derives its prestige from the object. Neither conception is entirely correct.” He said, “Photography is a Text, a complex meditation on meaning.” ‘
Cher for Vogue, 1970
“I was overwhelmed. Mrs. Vreeland kept calling me Aberdeen and asking me if a wedding dress didn’t make me want to cry. They’re all serious, hardworking people—they just speak a different language.
So I took my own models out to the beach. I photographed them barefoot, without gloves, running along the beach on stilts, playing leapfrog. When the pictures came in, Brodovitch laid them out on the table and the fashion editor said, ‘these can’t be published. These girls are barefoot.’ Brodovitch printed them. After that, I was launched very quickly. Those candid snapshots were in direct contrast to what was being done. I came in at a time when there weren’t any young photographers working in a free way. Everyone was tired, the war was over, Dior let the skirts down, and suddenly everything was fun. It was historically a marvelous moment for a fashion photographer to begin. I think if I were starting today, it would be much harder.”
“A photographic portrait is a picture of someone who knows he is being photographed, and what he does with this knowledge is as much a part of the photograph as what he’s wearing or how he looks.”
“I’m beginning to feel like this. Caught the incredible sunshine just in the nick of time today on my walk. The wall of rain approaching from the west desert was pretty spectacular, too. Along with being gorgeous, it was sooo muddy. Which made driving home in no shoes so very fun 🙂 If only i could post photos here! a picture is worth a thousand words, yes?
If a day goes by without my doing something related to photography, it’s as though I’ve neglected something essential to my existence, as though I had forgotten to wake up.”