This past weekend Brooks Institute of Photography held an “Art of Portraiture” seminar/workshop instructed by Joyce Wilson at the Santa Barbara “Cota” campus. Joyce is a well known and respected photographer, author, lecturer, and producer of portraits. Though she made a living doing formal portraiture, specializing in environmental portraiture in Indiana she found herself in California teaching for Brooks as the first head of their portraiture department. (Tim Meyers now has that spot).
She was an inspiration to us folks entering our antiquity and dotage; at over 80 she is still a dynamo filled with passion and drive for her deep love of making images and especially images of people. Her personal work now concentrates mostly on fine Art Portraiture and though we covered many of the basics applicable to all types of portraiture, we concentrated heavily on the fine art side of things.
The “class” came in all sizes and shapes, folks fairly new to photography and some who claimed status as advanced amateurs plus some students and one or two who did make money with their work… or wanted to. Ages ranged from teenagers up to – well – me.
We saw a lot of examples of work in several presentations, each with a different point of view, and then were divided into groups of four each assigned a model, male or female, and then after an hour and a half we switched models. It was raining outside so we took advantage of the overcast but still bright light from the windows in the hallways and also down in the lobby of the Cota Campus. I don’t often get a chance to work with such glorious diffuse window light so I was really happy to get the chance.
After a brief demo we were on our own though Joyce made the rounds to see how we were doing. Here is Joyce demoing in the hallway. It was a kick to watch her work, she is like me in that she cannot NOT take pictures and when something really good is lining up in her viewfinder she really works the image hard as she talked her way though it giving us insight into her thinking process.
This shot, in the hallway outside the classroom, shows Joyce working with Morgan and talking us through how she sets up a shot.
Then we went down to the lobby with its huge glass front, the light was now even more diffuse and soft.
Here Joyce is taking advantage of the huge windows for her light as she also is talking about posing.
The little group I was assigned started with model Carlos. We first shot in the Hallway using the windows and window ledge seats, and then moved around to a position with ceiling mounted track spot lights. Here it was very dramatic hard light. I had shared a ride up with my shooting partner Cynthia and it was she that saw the potential for this lighting and led us there. Her shot from there is monumental in feeling like Steichen’s portrait of Isadora Duncan at the Parthenon.
Here are two shots of Carlos taken in the lobby. The light was perfect for black and white to I’ll show the first one that way.
When time was up we switched to Model Morgan and in many ways repeated the locations we had used with Carlos
Here is a hallway shot using the window light…
And here is one back at the spot lights.
Joyce came around to see how we were doing and spied the brass lens on my camera. She had to try out my Petzval lens and though I told her it was a hard lens to get used to, she was excited by what she saw in her camera. I have discovered that a workable approach for me is to focus the best I can then take several quick shots in succession while very slightly altering the distance by rocking in and out. That lens is not a tack sharp lens to begin with, it was purpose-designed as a portrait lens in the “pictorialist” tradition , so trusting the viewfinder only is chancy. And to make matters more sporting I had walked off without the Waterhouse stops so had to shoot everything wide open.
After the shooting sessions we then watched a lighting demo in their studios. (They would eat their hearts out to see our studios at City!!!)
Here Joyce is directing Morgan in one of the studios showing both good and bad posing. They had ProPhoto lights but I would not trade them studio spaces for the great studios at City.
Our “homework” was to download the shots and if we wished, do some editing. Then on Sunday we would bring in our files, work on them more, see demos of techniques and software, and then have a critique/show-and tell session.
Joyce’s dedication to the “ART” side provide an opportunity for me to experiment with some editing and textures. So here is a shot I think will be destined for a canvas print and display.
Joyce’s own work is light and airy yet filled with mystery and soul. But as is nearly always the case with so diverse a student group, the student work was all over the map. She had much to offer those struggling but I wondered, as I do with my own students, which ones would take best advantage of it and be able to read “between the lines” and which of them were there to be spoon fed some magic bullet that would turn them into great photographers. Her approach was simplicity itself; she poo-poo’d the obsession with having the latest, greatest bleeding edge equipment and simply went out and made gorgeous images relying on lighting and posing and her eye to see expressions and details.
I think another of Joyce’s strong points is her amazing skill at quickly and effectively posing people. She is simply amazing how quickly she sizes up the issues and then methodically starts building the set of people in her shot, noticing every detail. For me that was the “take-home” of the seminar.
Oh well, now back to reality…