Baring one's soul for a photograph


Many years ago I created a series of shots depicting different issues of people living with metal illness in an institutional setting. This was a very serious subject matter and needed to be told. One of the most pressing issues of mental illness is the effect it has on the family. The impact can carry life long ramifications throughout multi generations. This photo of a patient/mother seeing her young son was one of those stories. This whole scene was created as to drive home the consequences of serious long term mental illness and the family. To get the actors in the proper mind set, I purposely had the female actress never see the young man who was portraying her young teenage son. The set up for the scene is that this woman has been institutionalized for a number of years and is just now seeing her son for the first time in many years because of family strife. During that time span the young boy has grown to becomea beautiful teenager. This scene is the actual moment the patient sees her son for the first time in so many years. I wanted the lead character to have the feeling of seeing her beautiful child grow to become a young man for the first time as she was seeing the most beautiful thing for the first time. This feeling she would convey would be loaded with numerous emotions being experienced all at the same time.

The actress we cast for this part was a veteran stage actress from the Chicago Steppenwolf theater group. I was quite fortunate to get such talent for this complicated role. For her to get into character for this scene she purposely separated herself from the set and crew and withdrew herself into the deepest part of her psyche. When all elements for the shoot were ready she walked on set, hit her mark and we rolled. During the time span it takes to squeeze off 64 exposures she gave me everything she had. Tears of joy, regret, sadness, happiness, embarrassment, love, and maternal longing. When done she was spent. She turned away from the set walked down the hall to be by herself. She gave me a little part of herself during that brief moment. She was exposed and I captured something that was personal therefore she couldn’t face me anymore that day.

Sometimes photography will expose the person being shot. It’s that delicate balance of trust and collaboration. The subject will trust us and lay it bare. It is an awesome responsibility as a photographer to respect that power. Not to abuse it. Today I have counted many social media notifications of woman being harassed and abused. It made me think of all the times woman have trusted me with power of the camera. That power can be translated into many other platforms such as employment, academia or most obviously Hollywood. When someone is vulnerable before you it is most imperative to more kind and understanding. Not to abuse that power. The recent news of the world has been most disheartening and I have hesitated to post any imagery that is somehow seems trivial. For the next few days I will be posting some images that present the humanity I have witnessed.

Today’s posting was a created scene, but there was honesty that happened on set that day that has stuck with me. That is why I posted it first.