© 2012 molly

On photoshoots

This year at Somerville Open Studios, I did a reprise of last year’s project. Here’s the idea: I set up a backdrop and do “five-minute photoshoots”. No complicated anything – just: show up, I take photos of you for five minutes, and you get the results, whatever they are. This is not a complex portrait sitting. It’s silly, it’s quick, it’s chaotic and fun. After you leave, I duck behind my little setup and pull the photos off of the camera and onto a USB stick and hand them to you to walk away with, and then I never have to think about it again.


There are important ways in which this is perfect for me. My internal standard is “one great shot”: in five minutes, I should be able to get one shot that captures whatever my subject was doing or thinking at the time. The stakes are low – nobody expects much from five minutes of antics – so I don’t spend a lot of time worrying that the product isn’t good or fancy enough. It does what it says on the tin. And, at the end of the day, I’m done. DONE! You have no idea how good that is.


For larger photoshoots — events, portrait sittings, what-have-you — I charge an hourly rate for shooting time. However, I spend hours and hours of time after the shooting is over crafting the perfect product. I would guess that I spend at least as much time sorting, deleting, and postprocessing my photos as I do shooting them, and often much more. I am also very particular. No, I will not give you the dump of photos straight off of the camera. I have to make sure that everything passes muster before it leaves my hands. Having a photo taken can make a person feel very vulnerable, and I take that trust seriously. I don’t want to show anyone a photo that doesn’t look perfect, to me.


A lot of gorgeous people feel that they aren’t photogenic. But here’s the thing: most photos of most people, most of the time, look bad. They’re squinting, or their neck looks weird, or the light is in the wrong place. I feel like it’s my job, as a photographer, to (a) make people look awesome by (b) setting up a good shot and (c) throwing out all of the inevitable bad photos. There’s more to it, of course: tweaking the light, fussing with colors in photoshop, and so on, but that’s the bulk of it: make it easy to be awesome, and wantonly discard anything that doesn’t pass muster.


I’ve been told more than once that I make people look beautiful, but I don’t see it. You people are always beautiful.


Anyway, so: I have a lot bound up in this process. How do I help someone relax enough to let go and show me something human? How do I safeguard their self-image, and reflect back to them how cool they are? My standards can get impossibly high. And then this project fell into my lap, from space: “one great shot”. Maybe not the one you wanted, or even the one I wanted. But one shot, one moment in time that is self-contained and beautiful: I can do that. No photoshop. No planning sessions. Maybe I’ll tell you to pretend to be a shark, or the black plague, or a dishwasher. Maybe I’ll ask you to shoot lasers out your fingertips. Maybe I’ll tell you the dumbest joke I’ve heard all day. And then I let go.


The setup I had:

Here’s what I like about it: it’s approachable. It has no walls. You can wander in and out of it. There are a bunch of photos tacked up next to it showing the work I did over the weekend. Here’s what’s scary about it to me: my computer and printer are off to the left, behind the easel and sign, where the whole world can look over my shoulder as I sift through the shoot results and pick out the gems. I tell myself: this is okay. People do not expect the world. It’s not a high-stakes shoot, it’s a bite-sized introduction to having your picture taken. I am giving people a chance to interact with art a bit, and goof off.


And at the end of the day, that’s all we really need. It’s good work; I take my hat off to everyone who is involved in organizing SOS, because I love the way it breaks down the wall between the public and Artists And Their Art. For me personally, though, I love the way that this project breaks down the walls between me and my own process. Just let it happen. It’ll happen.


It’ll happen.

A selection of shots from the weekend is here. Thank you to everyone who stopped by and said hi, even in passing; I felt super supported. Thank you also to Imre, who turned the camera on me and took a few great shots, which I unfortunately seem to have deleted, thereby preserving my near-perfect record at having no photos of myself.

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