Going the Distance

Good portraiture is certainly challenging enough, but making a portrait of someone you love is like a marriage. A definitive portrait (of that person, at that exact moment) must resonate. It must be intimate. It must be evocative. It must have a timeless quality. And it must be something you will want to hang on the wall and look at for the rest of your life.

Today, when I received the roll of film with this image of my youngest son, I realized that I have done him a disservice photographically. Robert Capa famously said, "If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough" Conventional wisdom is that he was referring to positioning yourself physically closer to your subject. If distance were the only issue, then this portrait meets that criterion because I stood in his personal air space to take it.  But more importantly, he let me.

Unlike his brother, he has never really been comfortable being photographed. I have the scowls, the glaring (or deliberately closed) eyes, and the bored-to-death countenance to prove it. Maybe he thought the camera separates rather than unites us? The result is that I have too often backed away physically and emotionally. I have not developed a rich photographic language that is unique to him.

Then there are those rare moments, like this one, when he is willing to open up, and I am willing to move into that emotion space. To quote a Lucinda Williams song, "If wishes were horses I'd have a ranch." If these moments happened more regularly, perhaps I would not value them as much. They evaporate far too quickly. My ranch becomes a mirage. But in that isolated moment, the alchemy of light, film, chemicals, and being in the moment creates a decisive portrait.

Lately, as I watch him mature into a young man, I am reminded of a line from a song by Harry Chapin. It was written about his daughter, but it is really about being a parent. "I have watched you take shape from a jumble of parts / And find the grace and form of a fine work of art."

I will hang this one on my wall.