Being a portrait photographer, at least a good one, requires that you establish a relationship with the subject. You need to connect, to understand each other, to be comfortable in each other’s presence. But, that’s not always as easy as you think. Today we have the pleasure of talking to LA-based photographer and musician Evan Zee, who has some tips on how to capture images that portray the model’s soul and personality.
What’s the one quote that always fires you up?
EZ: “At first we cannot see beyond the path that leads downward to dark and hateful things—but no light or beauty will ever come from the man who cannot bear this sight. Light is always born of darkness, and the sun never yet stood still in heaven to satisfy man’s longing or to still his fears.” – Carl Jung
Do you have any particular habits that are a part of how you begin your creative process?
EZ: Being that I am primarily a portrait photographer, my creative process begins with establishing a relationship between myself and the subject. I feel this is the necessary starting point on the pathway to capturing an image that holds the intimations of the soul and personality of the subject.
In some ways I find it akin to a live performance, the photographer as the performer and the subject as the audience. Whether the performer is aware of it or not, they are dictating what experience the audience will have. If the performer moves and carries themselves with charisma and comfort, the audience cannot help but to mirror those traits. Unfortunately, the opposite is also true. When the performer is wrought with stage fright or insecurities, a nearly tangible awkwardness is felt in every space of the room!
Once harnessed, this insight proves to be invaluable as a portrait photographer. As I am working to establish a relationship with my subject, I am not only trying to establish a space of comfort and trust, but also working to gather insight into who the subject truly is. If we take the idea of mirroring into this context, it requires that I as the photographer be fully vulnerable and present with who I truly am. It is an invitation for the subject to do just the same!
What do you do when you hit a wall during your creative process?
EZ: I have found that my dry spells generally occur when I have spent too much time in one particular artistic headspace. Personally, one of the truest joys of pursuing creativity and art is gaining broadened perspectives on how wide and deep they permeate our world. Creativity is fueled by fresh experiences! My photography is directly affected by the variety of music, people, and places I choose to encounter.
What’s your favorite photo you’ve ever captured and why?
EZ: It is definitely hard to choose a favorite! But if I had to choose, it would be the photograph that I took at my first wedding gig. I was working as an assistant to the main photographer and was challenged to look for candid shots as she took care of the heavy lifting. I happened upon one of the bridesmaids strolling along a pathway shielded by large green beautiful bushes. She was caressing her newborn against her breast while holding the bridesmaid’s bouquet. As I witnessed the scene through my lens I felt the feeling of what I can only describe as beauty as I pressed the shutter. I felt as though I knew before even looking back at the photo that I had captured what we photographers call a “moment”! From then on, I had to search for more of them!
What book would you recommend any creative person read?
EZ: The Bible! (Don’t worry, not trying to push religion on anyone here!) I have recently been reading through the Bible, particularly the Psalms, Proverbs, and the Gospels. The beauty, imagery, and wisdom found within the texts are truly profound and inspiring. The best art is marked by its timelessness, and the Bible is one of the oldest documents we have. Approach it like a novel and you might just find a wellspring of inspirational material!
Dane Johnson was the former Editor of PHLEARN Magazine, where he helped creatives share their stories. Dane currently is the co-founder of Clementine Coffee Roasters and he accepts most assertions of his hipster-ness and millennialism without flinching.