Barry Mills of Massive Wagons

[This post was inspired in part by Chris Floyd’s brilliant post on confrontation vs collaboration, which I suggest you go and read]

I keep feeling like I’m missing something in my portrait work. It’s taken me a while to figure out what it is, but today it hit me: intensity.

Sitting in front of a camera is a frightening experience. There’s this big glass eye looking at you, and it’s easy to forget that there’s a human being behind it. And even if you do consider the photographer as another person, it’s hard to make a connection because the camera gets in the way.

I goof around all the time on photoshoots. I crack jokes – mostly at my own expense. I try to get the subject to tell me something about themselves, find a point of connection. I tell them what I’m trying to get out of the shot, make it a collaboration. Sometimes they go with you, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they just look at you like you’re a bit weird.

Almost every time I get home and review the pictures (after my customary 72-hour embargo) and feel like there’s something missing. A spark of challenge, maybe, a feeling of connecting to something that I don’t quite understand. Perhaps it feels like I’m too far removed from my subject, or maybe it’s that the pictures are of them smiling, happy, when on the day they were anything but.

Happy, smiling, laughing people look fantastic in pictures; I can capture the twinkle in their eye with practised ease. But the more I shoot, the more I wonder who I am as a photographer. The more I wonder what my voice sounds like. And I often come back to this thought: it’s not the twinkle in the eye, or the smile, or the genial laugh that’s the most interesting thing about a person. It’s what happens after the smile fades a little, after my directions wear off, after the guard comes down.

Finding that is really hard. Something to strive for.