The Power of a Portrait

I’m most interested in photographs that include and involve humans. I find the challenges and rewards of portraiture keep me studying this mysterious art. I value work that gets me to think and to feel something unique or universal about the human condition from looking at a photograph of a person. Sometimes less is more and in the case of my taste in portraiture that is true a lot of the time. I feel like people are so complex it can only help to give them some space.

A portrait of my love

The biggest obstacle to truth in portraiture is that sometimes we carry lifelong habits of creating masks to protect ourselves. Whether it is a smile or a neutral face, there is something that you do to preserve yourself from the intruding eyes of strangers. At least, hopefully there is. Because it can be a rough world if you don’t know how to move with an understanding of the ways people are likely to behave. If you don’t have a grasp on the business, then you are going to have to learn.

Portraits have lots of uses in our contemporary lives. We can use them for our LinkedIn profile, for any articles people may be writing about us, for other social media profiles, and for finding love. Whether you need a good Tinder shot or something to show your grandma that you are doing well, a skillful portrait can go a long way towards helping you to reach your goals.

But there is more to a portrait than that. It is something that belongs to the canons of art history and if you care that much about the result, then you can make some magic happen.

A big part of a great portrait is the lighting. The way you place the model in relation to the light is going to determine how a viewer’s eyes might travel around the composition. The light is going to give shape and interest to the form of your subject’s face, hair neck, etc. You can use light to draw attention to important parts of the face, like a catch light for the eyes. This is when you place a light in view of the subject so that a small white light appears in the dark of their pupil helping to create a sense of depth and importance in the eyes.

One huge advantage of working in the studio is having the ability to create a comfortable environment for the subject. In general, there is a lot more ability to control the results. Natural light can be amazing and the experience of being outside sometimes can make a person really shine, but there is a much higher rate of success with the advantages of studio lighting.

I like to use continuous lights, because I find it is much more comfortable for the model. Not having the flashing of the lights and the beeping of the unit recharging makes it a much more enjoyable atmosphere. The vibes of the shoot always matter. That is one reason why working with someone you really like can help to make great work, or in my case with someone you love. When I photograph Madison I know that there is going to be a whole world of energy, emotion, intrigue, mystery and fun all bundled up into one frame. The feelings. Oh the feelings. We have a lot of them, and they show up in the work. I like that. That is what I like art to be. This portrait is an expression of love, fear, lust, faith, and so many other things all at once.  

The other night we set up the studio and had two continuous lights going to get this shot. What we did next was something amazing. We did an experiment with using long exposures and candle light. This is one area where it is so radical to have a model as a girlfriend because she is so beautiful and I tell her that all the time. She knows it. It’s not a question. It’s not an issue. What is great about this, is it give us the freedom to be silly and to have fun. We did a series of portraits that are not flattering even though they have a beautiful topless woman in them. I’m not going to show them here, but not for the reasons you might think.

This series is art. As a series, it is a powerful experiment that worked. The images are intriguing as fuck. She looks powerful but sometimes scary in these portraits. Because we have done a lot of work together and have a deep sense of creative trust, we were able to do something original and cool.

Now, we have a few different series going and I am super excited about the direction and shape our work is taking. Our collaboration is getting stronger and smarter at every turn and I can’t wait to see what we learn next. So many lessons. I’ll be sharing more of them here as it makes sense in the coming days. I feel as though I have made some very important discoveries and I am excited to put them into practice and to share with other people looking for ways to be more effective and to improve their outlook.

Meditation Medication: Martina Lin

Meditation is so hot right now. Actually, it’s been pretty popular since sometime around the 6th century B.C.E. when Siddhartha Gautama used it to become enlightened. Subsequently, Buddhism arose and grew to become one of the world’s biggest religions spreading the practice of meditation throughout Asia and the world, growing and changing forms through time and place. The thing that remained constant despite whatever other changes transpired has been the practice of meditation.

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Martina Lin: Meditation Specialist

Buddhism and meditation became popular in the United States during the 20th century through a variety of teachers and practitioners including Alan Watts, Jack Kerouac and more recently Jack Kornfield, Ken Wilber and Noah Levine among countless others. It’s been a big part of California culture especially since the 60s and the rise of the counterculture alongside the rise of psychedelics. There’s a collection of essays entitled Zig Zag Zen that explores the relationship between psychedelics and meditation. During the radical decade of the 60s and now, people in California became actively interested in finding ways to create mental breakthroughs. Certain historical periods call for this kind of change.

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Who couldn’t use a little enlightenment during heavy and dark times? The thing is, it’s hard to know how to practice meditation effectively. That’s why we need teachers. My grandfather was Buddhist and Quaker and practiced meditation on a daily basis. He held two Ph.D.s: one in Philosophy and one in East Asian Religion and wrote about how those worlds combined and overlapped. What meditation did for my grandfather has always inspired me. He was a seeker and learned a lot about meditation and followed it up with practice. Lots of people use meditation, today, and it has never been more important as we face monumental challenges together.

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That is why I was really excited for the opportunity to meet and work with Martina Lin, a meditation specialist in Santa Cruz. During our first meeting I was seriously impressed by her presence. Just talking to her had a calming effect. I always strive to do my best when doing someone’s portrait, but I was especially excited to work with someone doing something so important.

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We ended up finding a great window of time together, too. Our portrait session ended up taking place during two separate times as the first meeting was during high tide with a huge swell and that made accessing the rock formation I wanted to work on top of impossible. The second time we met, the skies were clear and the tide was low, so we had full access to the space and a great golden hour. Again, in her presence I felt calm and grounded. Some people have this special thing that you can’t quite explain but can feel, and whether it’s something she was born with or something she cultivated through practice, Martina has this quality. Check out Martina’s 7-day Meditation Challenge and book a session with her to take your meditation practice to another level or to start one if you don’t already meditate. And book a portrait session with me if you have something you are trying to promote your business, an event, or if you just want to record this moment in time.

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Star Power: Portraits, Styling, and You

     At the time of this writing, there are approximately 7.6 billion people living on this planet according to the Worldometers website. The United States alone has more than 325 million people and we are only the third largest country behind India and China. NPR recently published an article about the United Nations study, which projects that the population will grow to 11.2 billion by the end of the century, but (good news) also that it will likely plateau at that point. That is, the population will reach and stay at 11.2 billion if we survive as a species that long.

 

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Danielle Crook getting ready for her portrait.

     These numbers are difficult to imagine, but they nowhere compare to estimates of how many stars there are in the universe. According to a 2013 article in The Atlantic: “There are roughly a septillion stars in the observable universe. That’s 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 stars. Which is, for lack of a more fitting description … a lot of stars.” This article also cites a funny and entertaining science YouTube channel called Minute Physics which explains that there are only about 5,000 stars that we can see with the naked eye.

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Nadine Michelle of Purity Salon working on Danielle’s Makeup

     All of this is to say that stars are actually much more common than people. We just don’t always see things that way. So, we end up using the figure of the star as a metaphor to describe someone we see as being extremely rare. When, even if we reach 11.2 billion people, there would still be 892,857,142,857,143, or 893 trillion stars for each person. Maybe there are other reasons to compare people to stars, though. For one thing, stars are the main source of light in the universe, which is why they are important to photographers. No stars, no photo. Humans, as walking talking living breathing experiences of consciousness are a source of light, too.

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Visit Nadine’s website to book a hair and makeup appointment. Follow Danielle on Facebook to learn more about her upcoming concert and other creative projects.

 

     It’s more than their light, though that makes stars and humans similar. Stars are beyond all else mysterious. Where do they come from? Why do they do what they do? What happens when they are gone? Humans are mysterious as stars and for the same reasons. As much as we might want to define people, to give them labels, to judge them according to various ethical standards at the end of it all there is something deeply unknowable about the human being. And being human is a tricky and complicated thing, to say the least.

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Danielle in her Blue Starry Night Dress

     This is partly what makes portraiture so powerful. When you really respect what it means to be human, the act of portraying a person is a profound thing to attempt. This shoot in particular was inspired by the stars which is what got me thinking these cosmic thoughts, lol. My friend Danielle is organizing a classical music concert around the theme of Starry Night with a visual art element as well as piano and singing and I’m helping her to promote the event. For this shoot, she arranged to have her hair and makeup done by the amazingly talented Nadine Michelle at Purity Salon on Soquel St. in Santa Cruz. Nadine did a fantastic job with her styling and she put on the dress she’ll be performing in and we set out to get some shots.

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     First, we went out to the point that divides Main Beach and Seabright Beach. This spot is great for portraits as you can stand out close to the water and have a great distance between the subject and the background. The light was soft and subtle and illuminated Danielle, her hair, and her costume beautifully. Next, we drove over to Capitola Village to take advantage of the holiday lights to create a starry bokeh effect. I think both locations created beautiful portraits and will do well to help raise awareness and sell tickets for the event, which is going to be a really interesting experience for everyone who gets to see and hear the art.

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You are a star, too. In fact, you’re much more special than a star, far more rare. You should have your portrait done, too and I know just the guy to do it. In fact, Nadine and I would love to team up again to give you a look that you’ll love to share with your friends, that will help you to promote your happenings, and that will give the grandkids a kick someday. Or you could just keep taking selfies with your phone. Your choice.

 

Water Power

The Oroville dam is about to bust. Somewhere near 180,000 people had to be evacuated, but that is just the start of the problems. People are losing their homes and there’s no telling how far that water will spread once it is set free. Water is like power is like money. It flows freely and seeks its own level. It is only with major acts of engineering or natural acts of geography that it is ever stored in one place in large amounts. So many of the tragedies we see today are actually symptoms of deeper problems, of engineered imbalances. Building border walls is like building nuclear power plants is like building dams: all bad ideas with consequences nobody wants to experience. Meanwhile, here in little ol’ Santa Cruz the morning was preceded by flash bombs and helicopters. Was it a raid in the planning for 5 years designed to arrest truly violent gang members, or was it a raid on immigrants without the right legal paperwork?
One day, sometime not too far away, this cave will collapse. It kinda makes you appreciate it more when you think of that.

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