What is the difference between a portrait and a picture of someone? There are a lot of pictures of people but very few portraits. A portrait communicates something about the subject. A portrait is a reflection of a relationship that has been formed, however fleeting.
When I was asked to make the formal portrait of Rhode Island’s newly installed Episcopal Bishop Nicholas Knisley, I knew the portrait had to serve many different needs. The formal portrait of Bishop Knisley needed to do several things. First it must communicate the position and role he holds in the church. The vestments served that purpose without much help from me. I also wanted communicate something about the person wearing those traditional clothes. That came through conversation, careful posing, and thoughtful observation.
Even though this is a fairly simple portrait, a lot of planning went into its making. These things don’t just happen. First, I had to scout the location to make sure I had a space appropriate to set up my location studio near his office. I needed to have a tall enough ceiling to set up the backdrop far enough away to not be distracting. I have learned the hard way that whenever there is a chance to scout a location before a sitting, I take it. Sometimes the image I have in my mind is not physically possible. Creating options is the key to any successful business.
Then we had to find a time. Since he was newly installed, his schedule was booked a month in advance. Finding an hour of free time was no simple task, but it happened.
The biggest issue was what to do with the crozier (that fancy staff). I found it a little difficult to incorporate until I just let it be. I used the 8×10 view camera because I wanted the formality and detail and I also like the nod to history and tradition it evokes. I did use my digital camera to make sure the lighting was good and also to have some color images to use. After the formal session, we went back to his office a more laid back, less formal portrait. The office has more than one facet and he needs images that can be used on a variety of different platforms I didn’t set up any lights but instead opened the shades in his sun filled office. I used my digital camera which allowed for a lot of flexibility.
Bishop Knisley was open to suggestion, funny, and relaxed. The balance between his personality and spiritual life are well represented in the images I made. Now he and the church have images that serve him as he serves the church community he represents. I was honored to be a part of that process.