About a year ago I was in bed with a fever that left me sixteen pounds lighter at the end of the seemingly endless fourteen days. I didn’t want to talk to or see anyone. Let alone get lectured. Without saying anything, an unidentified friend showed up in my room and sat himself at my computer. Being in a dark room all day under the covers when he turned on the lights, I was blinded. Unable at first, to identify whom this guy was sitting at my desk. I thought “oh, whatever its probably one of my roommates” and closed my eyes again. Then he spoke and I immediately knew who he was. I hadn’t seen him in years. I had no idea he was coming… I thought he lived in his van on some mountain next to a cliff with his dog (which he still did, the van made it to my driveway). The first thing he said was, “bro, you gotta take your photography to the next level. Your surf and climbing photos are sick don’t get me wrong, but you gotta take portraits, man.”
An accomplished and well-known professional photographer himself, I knew to take his advice seriously. But, portraits? I kind of... no, I really hated taking photos of people just being people. To me I only wanted to take a persons photo when they were doing something crazy! Action sports are what I shot. Not portrait. Little did I know at the time that that disinterest wasn’t just photography related…It was my selfishness to not invest myself into the stories of the people around me...
He went on to explain how he had made a living taking landscape and climbing photos. However, he knew that he wanted to take more meaningful photos, but he didn’t know how. In the past, he didn’t like taking photos of people just being people, either. Long story short, he convinced me to give portraits a shot. He said “bro, it won’t just make all your photos better…its more than that, you’ll see.” At the time, making my photos better was the only thing I got out of that conversation.
Fast-forward a few days and there, Ian Kizanis and I, were taking engagement photos of one of our best friends proposing to the love of his life. I didn't expect my favorite photo of that trip to be taken the night before the big question. We were sitting in Donnie's kitchen and I just decided to take a photo of him. This is what was produced:
When I saw it on the computer it gave me a feeling much more than just a picture. For the first time I felt more than just excitement when seeing my own photo. It was a different kind of “wow.” Before, I’d look at my action photos and be like “wow that’s cool,” stare at it for a few seconds and analyze what happened in the photo. Done. But this portrait made me say, “Wow, what’s happening in this picture?” I saw nerves, wonder, and excitement in his facial expression all at once. I loved it.
Here's a couple shots from the engagement - (she said yes)
I made Ian be my subject next. We spontaneously found a naturally lit area and went for it. The year went on and I began taking portraits of some other friends and eventually some strangers. I found that I was making conversation and learning so much about these people in the short amount of time that they had agreed to stand in front of my lens. I came up with a theme: A comparison of facial expressions between how the subject thinks the world views him/her and my own interpretation of how the world views him/her.
Here's Ian's example. The first picture is how he thought others viewed him when they thought of him. The second is the image that I picture when I think of him.
I found that I normally went day to day asking people "how are you?" and replying "i'm good" the same way all day, every day (just like a lot of us do). I started wondering, "what would it be like if we were all honest about how we were really doing that day?" What kind of connection would we be experiencing with each other? I think it would be beautiful. This honesty of feeling is what I've asked the people in my portraits to show me. The result is a real connection. A real understanding of how that person is feeling in that moment. This portrait project ended up teaching me a lot about myself. I incorporated my portraits into my personal instagram account. Every third photo I share is a black and white portrait of a person (okay, one time my new puppy, Koda) accompanied by a little write-up about that person. What this did was give me the chance to put that person in the limelight. I got to write positive things and show the world the accomplishments, aspirations, and potential of these people. It wasn't just about me and my photo anymore. It was about the story behind the eyes.
I've been blessed to have taken these portraits of 60+ amazing individuals over this past year. Looking back to the time my friend came in my room and encouraged me to do this, I wouldn't have believed you if you told me that taking photos of "people just being people," would be my new favorite project. Thank you from the bottom of my heart to all the people who have stood in front of my lens, took off the mask, and showed me your heart. It has been an absolute honor.
Lastly, here's me throwing myself in front of the lens for the sake of it:
If you'd like to know more about the portrait series and how I'm incorporating it into the new Two Way Mirror project, check out this attached file for the full story and project: