For me the relationship always came first – the desire to forge a common bond with the person before me. My portraits grew out of this closeness and expressed the intimacy from which they emerged. (Jan Phillips, God Is at Eye Level, 2000)
The assignment in our photography class this month is to make connections with people through a series of portraits – one person, two people, three or more people, and people with animals. The images were to hint at connections with the image maker and among the people in the portraits.
Not too many years ago, this would have been an impossible assignment for me. Taking pictures of people seemed so intrusive and selfish. I was taking something to suit my purposes without giving anything in exchange. Yet, I wanted to get better at photographing people. Not studio portraits, but people in their own environments.
For this assignment, I chose to photograph the adults who attended one of our church social functions. I frequently am the photographer who documents worship services and social functions for my church community. This time I arranged two chairs and a table in the foyer of the parish hall and asked people if I might “take their pictures” as they arrived for dinner. Most of them are used to seeing me with my camera, and all of them were willing to sit for me. Because I was there in a somewhat official capacity, I felt confident about asking people to pose, and because people were on their way in and not yet engaged in the event, I did not feel that I was intruding on their celebration. The challenge was to make a connection when there was so little time with each person. I didn’t even get the names of people I did not know. My favorite image is of an older newly married couple, where the husband, standing with one had draped over the back of the chair, is looking sweetly at his seated wife.
Sometimes, the camera is a way for me not to engage with people at social events. I go from group-to-group taking pictures without ever having a conversation with anyone. Weddings, class reunions, and neighborhood gatherings come to mind!
The second venue for my portraits was a New Year’s Eve wedding. My nephew and niece were guests at a wedding of one of her cousins, and they asked me if, before the wedding, I would come to the venue to take a picture of my 2-year-old grandniece with the four generations of women who precede her. The challenge was to assemble the four women and the toddler in one place. The official wedding photographer set up the pose and I photographed along side. It was not a background I would have chosen. However, it was the only opportunity to assemble the five generations.
My favorite image is the one in which my grandniece, seated on her mother’s lap, is looking in wonder at her great, great grandmother (103 years old) seated beside her. Standing behind them, great grandmother is looking at the youngest generation and smiling. I took advantage of the New Year’s setting to photograph my nephew, niece, and grandniece. Family members are often reluctant subjects, unless you can catch them off-guard. However, the three of them were dressed in their finest, relaxed, and ready to party.
The best images in this series of portraits for the assignment are the ones in which I have a connection with the people in the image and their love for each other is clearly evident.
NOTE. Because I will not post images of family and friends to this blog, I have chosen portraits of other people with whom I made connections in the past. The images were made at public events with permission.
I leave you with “Golden” by Amy Grant, from her album How Mercy Looks from Here (2013). The lyrics express what I want to say to the people with whom I connect by means of my camera. They are indeed golden and loved. (You can find a performance of this song on YouTube by googling the title and composer.)
You are loved, you are golden
And the circle won’t be broken
When you sail into the shadow of the storm
Every son, every daughter
When you’re out on troubled water
Just hold on, just hold on
You are loved, you are loved
You are loved, you are golden