My first long term project after the master class with Keith Carter turned out to be one of my favorites for a lot of reasons.
My intention with the project was to do something with portraiture, which I had never attempted before – best way to learn is to dive in!
Jason Avery Kelch
My “muse” for the project was Arnold Newman, probably the greatest portrait photographer of the the 20th century. He had a particular fondness for photographing artists in their studios, and since my immediate world is populated with artists I thought I’d follow suit. Shoot what’s familiar…
My initial aims were modest, just do maybe 20 environmental portraits of artists I knew in their studios. Simple (usually) natural lighting, B&W, hopefully shots with some character. I was envisioning the work in a self-published book.
Jennifer Bec Hirshfield
I tried to set up one shoot a week and after about 15-20 of these I decided to keep going. I started getting suggestions from various people about who to shoot next. I wanted to cover different mediums, have a balance of men and women, young and old. I even visited the curator at the Sonoma County Art Museum to connect with some of the more celebrated artists in the county. I met a lot of interesting people and everyone welcomed me into their studio sanctuaries. I discovered what a wide range of places people can create in!
One of my favorite aspects of the project was showing up at the studio of an artist who I had never met or seen before and having to figure out in less than an hour how to get the shot I needed for the project. The element of surprise (and fear!) was stimulating. Working within constraints leads to creativity in my opinion. Some of my favorite shots came in studios that were modest compared to many, with people whom I had just met.
Finally, after more than a year of visiting artist studios, I had to draw a line in the sand – I literally could have gone on forever (there are a LOT of artists in Sonoma County!). I decided to stop at 50 photographs and turn my attention to publishing the book.
After a lot of trial and error I ended up printing 250 copies of a small soft cover edition with a local printer. As I already knew, printing high quality black and white work with a small run on digital printers is extremely difficult. And since I am a professional printer myself, I’m very picky! Here is the final result:
I was also honored to be able to have a short pop-up show at the Santa Rosa Museum of art with all 50 portraits and a sampling of over 20 original art pieces by selected participants.
All in all, I learned a lot and had a great time – lots of work, but well worth it!