Years ago I became acquainted with the work of Mona Kuhn. Her work is stunning, but what I found most interesting was her process. Mona frequently develops friendships with her subjects and photographs them over days, weeks, even months. Making photos in this fashion allows her to capture moments that are more intimate and natural. It’s something I’ve always wanted to try.
A few years ago I began experimenting with my process. I hired the same models regularly to try to facilitate a more comfortable working relationship. I booked longer sessions. I booked sessions on back to back days. Although I had some success I just wasn’t breaking through and getting the natural and unguarded moments I was looking for. The photos, while interesting, still felt a bit staged.
In the summer of 2013 I met and began working with the artist Alexis Kathryn. In addition to being an artist she’s also a model. I asked her if she’d be willing to shoot two full day sessions back to back to try to emulate the work of Mona Kuhn. She agreed.
You have to get out of the studio. This will never work.
On the first day of our shoot we met at the studio and I began to light Alexis on different sets in the studio. After about an hour of shooting Alexis pointed out my issue, “You have to get out of the studio. You’re trying the same thing over and over – this will never work. It’s not organic. Let’s get out of here.”
We hopped in my car, left all of the studio lighting gear behind, and began to look for locations in the city. It was odd for me at first. I’d left all the comforts of control behind. I was now capturing something I couldn’t totally control. And that’s when I realized Alexis was right, this could never work in the studio. The studio isn’t organic, it’s not natural. It’s always a bit guarded.
The images we created on that first day were promising, but they were still not totally organic. Alexis and I talked about the process and together we decided we needed a longer shoot. We decided to leave town and shoot on-location for 48 hours straight.
The rules were simple. I could shoot at any time I wished. Anything. This would give me the freedom to look for and capture “unguarded” moments. I also agreed not to publish any photo without permission from Alexis. This gave her the assurance that she could be natural and not worry that I’d publish something not flattering.
We began to work and soon the camera seemed to fall away. The shooting became part of our day. We weren’t on a photo shoot, we were spending time together and there just happened to be a camera present from time to time.
We shot during the day. We shot late at night. We shot while walking down the street. We shot everything. Eventually the honest moments came. Pure, unposed, natural images. After 48 hours I felt like I’d just finished the first real photo shoot of my life. I believe these are the most honest images I’ve ever made.