I have always thought that to be a great portrait photographer, you need create a rapport with the person to be photographed. That’s one reason why I include, in my preparations with my clients, a pre-session consultation here in my studio. This 30-minute time together, away from the client’s distractions of the day, gives me an opportunity to learn a little about them, their interests, their family, their passions, their lives.
I especially enjoy this time with my high school senior portrait clients because from them I hear about what they are doing at school, the classes they are taking, the activities they enjoy, the plans they have after they graduate and the dreams they hope to pursue. This time allows me to become better acquainted with them and gives me a sense of their personality so as to help me to plan how to best photograph them. When you have only an hour, as I allow, in a senior session, you need to establish common ground and quickly be able to grasp the essence of their complex personality. Every one of them has a truly unique personality and that’s what I set out to capture when I work.
As a journalist for TIME Magazine, I was very good at personal interviews. I knew how to ask questions to get the information I needed. Of course, while this expertise is useful, I don’t use it in the same way in my studio consultations. My goal with my clients is to put them at ease with me as well as to learn about their life so that when they do step in front of my camera, we are working together in a way that ultimately produces the kind of results my clients have come to expect.
Consequently, I get pretty attached and close to the people with whom I work. This is true particularly with my high school seniors. Perhaps it’s because I listen carefully to what they tell me or because when photographing someone professionally, as I do, I create a mutual trust in order for the person to comfortably reveal themselves to me.
I enjoy keeping up with the seniors even after they graduate. Sometimes I’ll bump into them at an event or somewhere they work and we’ll chat about what they’ve been doing. Sometimes I’ll hear from them on Facebook. And sometimes they’ll drop by the studio if they are in town and in my area just to say ‘Hello.’ That’s the kind of relationship I pride myself and that I enjoy with my clients.
So when I received a phone call the other day from the father of one former senior client, telling me that his son, Marcus, had unexpectedly and tragically passed away, it hit hard. I saw Marcus several times after his graduation, mostly when working at a local restaurant. I remember how much fun he was during his photo session. He chose Whatcom Falls Park as the location for his session because that’s where he spent a lot of his free time. When I learned during his consultation that he loved music, I asked him to bring his guitar too. It turned out to be a blue acoustic guitar that matched the blue plaid flannel shirt he wore that day.
His sisters, mother and father were also present on that day. The older of the two sisters had a great way of getting him to smile, although I don’t think it took much to squeak a smile from Marcus. He also had this great little twinkle in his eyes that I feel I captured in his portrait. I can see why so he touched the lives of so many. He was personable, sincere and seemed to have a genuine concern for those around him. In fact, I read in his obituary, that he had just decided to study photojournalism at Western Washington University in order to expose the injustices he had seen in the places in the world he had visited. I’m sure he would have been a good one.
My heart goes out to Marcus’ family. I am honored to have been the photographer they chose to create his senior portrait. I’m happy that they have those photos, taken at a much happier time, to keep with them now. I hope they will help them through this tough time and bring them a smile or two, just as Marcus did to others in the 21 short years of his life.
You can read more about Marcus’s life by clicking on the link below and you can see more images of Marcus from his senior session on the Portfolio page of my blog.
Thanks for the wonderful memories, Marcus!