Category Archives: Friedman, R

What is a portrait? & Feeling Stuck!

Although not an academic or art photography journal, the Dec16-Jan 17 issue of Professional Imagemaker magazine contains an article by Rick Friedman that I found inspiring.

I was keen to take some wider influences as I was having difficulty making progress on I&P exercises in Part 1.  This came as a shock after Content and Narrative, where creative ideas and opportunities seemed to come freely.  But now – with people rather than objects the objective of my lens – there seems to be so many practical issues getting in the way of progress.

Perhaps it is the time of year – I leave for work in an office in the dark and leave work in the dark.  Work itself is very demanding at present so I often return home quite late in the evening.  Having to drive means that public transport holds no opportunities and childcare at the weekend limits opportunity.  These very practical constraints make it a challenge to find several people and logistically photograph them in the same place, or find diary time to take people to a background setting of their choice.

I wanted to look at what other people were doing for ideas to get me going.

Rick is a photojournalist based in Boston, USA but has travelled the world photographing famous people.  When asked at the start of the interview “what is a portrait?” he answers “a single frame that tells a story“(Friedman, 2016).  He generally photographs his subjects in their own environment, which immediately struck a chord with the I&P Part 1 exercises.

He goes on to explain how preparation is the key.  As well as learning about your subject, their likes, dislikes, successes and what they do, he also says it is important to “know what your story is“(Friedman, 2016).  This means that you have a clear idea in mind before you start so are not faffing in front of the subject.  It shows direction and confidence which will lead the subject to relax in your presence, confident that they are safe in your hands.

This approach really comes through in his images, such as those of US politicians.  Hillary Clinton, taken in recent weeks has an air of annoyance and discomfort about her from the glare of the camera lights, a fitting metaphor for the pressure she was under in public for the last few weeks of the USA election.  Trump on the other hand has momentum and a swagger about him:

Obama is more easy going, a ‘man of the people’, serving in the local bar:

I found this a useful kickstart for the exercises.  To this end I started to plan out the exercises as I would approach an Assignment: listing ideas in a notebook, assessing viability and refining it over a period of days.  I have friends who are gardeners, shamanic practitioners, druids and all sorts of backgrounds.

I started to explore the idea of ‘working with that I have’ too.  My sons and partner are notoriously camera shy, although I did manage to press them into a portrait for their mum as a Christmas gift:


Perhaps I should start to use them more in my course exercises.  Logistics remains an issue in this period of winter dark nights.  Perhaps I can use more portable lighting in peoples’ homes.  But I feel like I’m back on track again.

Final word from Rick: “There’s no right or wrong way to make a photograph, as long as you get the image you set out to achieve” (Friedman, 2016).


Friedman, R (2016) ‘What is a portrait?’In Professional Imagemaker (88) pp.56-64.