Last week I read an article in The Daily Beast about photographer and co-founder of WireImage Jeff Vespa. In the article, Vespa talked about celebrity portraiture and how he doesn’t like to tell his subjects how to pose, as it is not helpful in creating an authentic portrait and posing can mostly be corny, if not annoying and unnatural to the person being photographed. His work, by the way, is exquisite, and, if you haven’t seen his photography, I suggest you check him out.
One of the challenges I have encountered with my tattoo project is that I’m trying to capture more than one thing in the photo. I want people to be able to appreciate the tattoo, but I also want them to be able to feel a connection with the person in the photo. For me, connection comes through the eyes. Most of the people I’ve been photographing are not the most comfortable in front of the camera. I can tell almost right away that they’re waiting for instruction on how to stand or pose. Thus, it’s always striking a balance between giving them ideas while not losing the authenticity. I always tell them to stand how they feel most comfortable, and then I give them a couple of suggestions such as putting their hands in their pockets, crossing their arms, or etc. Afterwards, I make the adjustments I need to ensure I can see the tattoo. In the studio, this is fairly easy. Location shoots are more difficult because I’m having to adapt to unfamiliar environments, where, for example, lighting or space might be more scarce.
The photos above are from my most recent shoot. His name is Zach, and he is a 19 year old Navy soldier. I enjoyed interviewing him. He was friendly and really personable. I couldn’t exactly tell how comfortable he was being photographed, but often, it seemed like he could read my mind. He always had his head turned at just the right angle. I’m very grateful that he took the time to let me interview/photograph him, since he didn’t have a lot of time left before he had to fly back to the navy base in Virginia.
I learn something every time I take someone’s portrait. This has been one of the most rewarding projects I’ve worked on. Besides making me a better photographer, this journey of reaching out to people with tattoos has taught me the power of storytelling. Every person has a story. Tattoos are just one of the many forms of narration.