The Large Format Portrait in the age of Instagram

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Young Man

Modern technology is amazing. Connecting with friends and colleagues with the click of a mouse, or swipe of a finger, makes my life easier — in some ways. However, in a rush to stay modern, many useful tools which make stronger connections are discarded.

I type and edit on my computer, but I’ve been writing by hand since I was six and my ideas come faster that way. Rough drafts go faster by hand because there is no backspace. I always write the first draft of something by hand, in a composition book I bought for a dollar.

While writing by hand, I listen to music streaming on the internet through my cell phone. So, the modern world fits nicely with more traditional methods of expression.

I also use manual typewriters to write actual letters. I send them in the mail with nice stamps and everything. People like getting letters. There are a lot of words flying around the internet, but holding something and reading it is a different experience. Modern connections, immediate and brief, diminish the ability for organic conversation. Time is precious, but the constant search to save time is a waste of time. You can’t save time. You can only spend it wisely.

When I first thought about making photography a source of my livelihood, I wrote out my idea of how to do it. I would “make portraits of people with an 8×10 camera and print them in platinum.”

The way I make portraits has not changed. I use a lens from the 1930s designed for portrait photography. This isn’t a gimmick. It is how I think and how I see people. My method of portrait making isn’t about “capturing a moment,” but it is about establishing a person in time. The large format camera slows people down, inviting curiosity and stillness. In fact, that is the feeling I want my portraits to evoke. In some ways it is the look that a child has of the world around it.

I never expected everyone to want what I do. My business model is pretty simple and selective. I make portraits of people and their families in the same way Yosef Karsh, Irving Penn, and Richard Avedon did. My portraits are simple and crafted. My portraits are made to be passed down through generations. There is always a place at the table for something that takes its time to get it right.

During the production of the portraits, I do use Photoshop and other modern retouching techniques. It’s just what a chef would do, when she makes an old family recipe with modern equipment. The basic ingredients haven’t changed, but the ability to bring them together has been simplified. Old and new can live together.