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As a photographer who tends to prefer stormy days on wild hills or coastlines, it’s not often I’m able to indulge my other love: portrait photography. Time’s at a premium at the moment as I’m studying for a Higher National Certificate in Creative Media Production at the excellent Forces Media Academy. This could keep me further still from making portraits – but it actually gave me a chance to make some head shots of my course colleagues.
The course is set up to provide Armed Forces veterans with solid training in video and audio production. As someone with a long-standing love of radio I’m looking forward to the studio opportunities it will provide – and to the chance to add video to the skills I can offer to clients. The class includes ex-Army, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force personnel, each with his or her own story, hopes and aspirations – enough of a diverse collection to make head shot photography something of a joy.
My favourite portrait photographers have a knack for capturing their subjects’ personality and innate humanity – think of Jane Bown’s timelessly beautiful photographs of a fragile Shuhada’ Davitt (formerly Sinead O’Connor), a chuckling Sir John Betjeman or Samuel Beckett’s hawkish, cold stare. Bown is, in fact, my favourite portraitist and I’d flatter myself to think I’ve learned from her humane approach to the form.
Certainly I prefer to make my portraits in black and white where possible (usually with available light, although I used flash here). Black and white helps the viewer, I think, to focus attention on the way my subject’s eyes meet the camera’s gaze, or to study the way light and shade affect the way we perceive the subject’s character. And so it was with these head shots, for veterans looking for their step in to media: classic portraits for those who want to find work in front of the camera or mic – with one or two Bown-inspired moments of candid hilarity. What a pleasure to have a chance to get to know my new colleagues, and to offer them something that I hope will help them in their new careers.
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