The Artistry of the Lens

I often wonder how other people actually see me. When I look in the mirror I am viewing a reversed vision of myself that is unlike the image that others would encounter. When I gaze at photographs of me I am unable to find a single one that captures the way I feel about myself. Only once did someone get very close to snapping a picture that connected with who I think I am. It happened to be a student who had brought me a lovely rose colored shawl for Christmas. He wanted to save the moment so he asked if I would allow him to take a photo with the camera on my phone. He sat me in a chair and methodically adjusted the lighting and the folds of the shawl. He had me turn my head until he found the best view and then he snapped several pictures until he felt it was just right. The results were beautiful. 

That young man has become a professional photographer and his work is just as stunning as the image he took of me. Sadly I changed phones over time and I have not been able to find that photo ever again. It was a treasure, so I should have saved it immediately, but I was busy in those day and did not think of worrying about a single photograph no matter how lovely it was.

There is an artistry in photography. Some photographers have a natural eye and talent, but mostly the best images come from practice. The pictures I like the most tell a story much like one that I feature in my home that won a prize for another of my former students. It is a happy scene of children reaching their arms into the heavens and looking upward with unmitigated joy. I smile whenever I see it. The young man who took the photo tells me that it came from a time when he took a summer missionary trip to central America. The children were trying to catch a helium-filled balloon that had escaped from their hands and was rising into the air. My very talented student realized that the photo would be much more interesting if he cropped the balloon and focused instead on the children. He was so right!

I have a niece who is a masterful photographer. She has a way of capturing the essence of people. My favorite image from her is of my grandson Jack. It shows him crouching on the stage of his high school where he often portrayed different characters in his acting class. The portrait is done in black and white. It is the very picture of who he is and what he loves. 

My husband and I have been watching features on Master Class, a series of instructional videos from experts in virtually every field. We’ve learned how to cook from Wolfgang Puck and how to think from Neil deGrasse Tyson. Recently we decided to watch a session with Annie Leibovitz, the famous photographer who has created some of the most iconic photos of both the famous and unknown. I was literally in awe of her abilities and her eye for revealing the inner beauty of her subjects.

Ms. Leibovitz believes that every photograph should tell a story. She learns about people and then creates a vision of them in places and situations that are meaningful to them. The faces of her subjects literally come alive and speak to us as we gaze on their features. Some of her work is so stunning that I became emotional just viewing it on my television screen. She is fearless in what she attempts to do which is a very necessary trait for a photographer to transcend from the ordinary into artistry. 

i remember photographic sessions from back in my youthful days. They always took place in studios with glaring lights and uncomfortable poses. Somehow I always felt strained and worried that I would look terrible in those scenes. Nothing about them felt like me and so the pictures look stiff and unnatural. 

Today’s photographers seem to be reaching for something more personal, more interesting in the photos they take. The three people that I have mentioned make everyone beautiful and important. They find the settings and the poses that bring out the inner essence of their subjects. Perhaps like Annie Leibovitz they understand that photography is an art. They have a way of finding the story that lurks inside of every single person.

I used to laugh at those Glamour Shots that people purchased at the mall. I think they were really just an attempt to look and feel beautiful. A great photographer doesn’t need all of the makeup and big hair to succeed at that. I want to hire one of my students or my niece to do that for me. I need someone who can help me get beyond my worries that I don’t have a photogenic bone in my body. I’ve learned that when the right person is behind the lens everyone looks gorgeous even without photoshopping.

Beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder. An artist knows how to find that wherever he or she goes. it’s wonderful that we have such people in our midst. Their work brings happiness, beauty and truth into the world.